Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with information, so I’ve started taking steps to trim some of the fat from my info-diet. Along with reducing the number of people I follow on Twitter, and using Facebook’s new feed features to help focus my news to people I care most about, I’ve also made one significant change in my feed reading habits by making a switch from my traditional feed reader to iGoogle’s new widgetized interface. Here’s why the new features in iGoogle rock my world…
Finally, A Dashboard That I Can Scan
I probably track around 100 blogs in my RSS reader, and by most measures, I think that’s a modeset number. Do I read every post from all of those blogs? Of course not. Nobody has that kind of time. Like everyone else, I’ve got 15-20 favorites that I track actively and the rest get lumped into the “You Have 687 unread posts” category. Still, with a traditional RSS feed reader, I’ve had to dig through my feeds on the left, expand them and scroll through posts.
No More. Now I use iGoogle’s dashboard (as my browser’s homepage) to keep up with my favorite blogs RSS feeds, friends, email, facebook…all of it. I now spend a fraction of the time reading that I did a week ago. Everything you add to iGoogle shows up as a draggable widget, so you can design your own layout, organize your stuff into tabs, and it’s all right there on your home page. The dashboard design makes keeping up a heckofa lot easier because it makes the content scannable (FINALLY!).
I won’t bore you with all the details of how to set it up, because it’s a snap, and besides, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Here’s my current iGoogle home page…
iGoogle Dashboard Widgets Add Extra Value For Social Networking
While adding tabs on my iGoogle Dashboard the other day, I stumbled on an awesome new feature. I created a tab called “Friends” and it automatically populated the tab with Facebook functionality, GoogleChat and Gmail widgets. I even added a twitter gadget. It’s nice to know that the good folks at Google are accurately anticipating their users wants and needs. Here’s another 1000-word screenshot. How useful is this??!!
The fact that Google is figuring out that people need a good agreggation service for all their feeds (beyond just RSS readers) is awesome, and I think the new iGoogle interface is an indicator of changes to come with how feeds are organized and presented. Here are some final thoughts…
Design Makes A Difference To How People Consume Information
I’m a big believer in the idea that design shapes behavior. The fact that design impacts reading behavior is the reason that magazines and newspapers invest so heavily in layout, typography and graphic design. This is a no brainer, right? I know I’m not saying anything innovative here…so why haven’t companies like FriendFeed and NewsGator innovated with the design of their layout to improve readability? It’s all so…linear. Linear design is fine (and even elegant) until you start pulling a lot of different types of content into one stream. FriendFeed in particular has gotten so useless to me, that I don’t even bother with it anymore – Tweets, photos, bookmarks, comments…it’s all there in one big no-context pile that you have to sort through. I quit trying a while ago because it’s just too overwhelming. I know I’m not alone in this. Why doesn’t every profile have a dashboard of all their stuff sparated out for readability? It’s all coming in separately, so why lump it all together ina long time line and make it less useful? In an asychronous world where people are creating lots of different kinds of content, do I really care that a tweet about lunch came right after a bookmark of a stock report? Time doesn’t add enough context to make it meaningful, especially when you add more and more users to a stream.
In short, the problem isn’t that there’s too much data…it’s that the current design and organization of the information presented by popular aggregation services lends itself to clutter. FriendFeed in particular should take note of iGoogle’s new widgetized dashboard and show us something fresh, new and organized. Just aggregating a ton of services isn’t enough. You have to help your users orgnize and make sense of it all. Services that do that well are going to win in the long term.