Part 1: The personalization war

Summary:Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have products and services that seem to be aligned, however they are definitely not built equal.  All three offer  services aimed at making the web more personalized.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have products and services that seem to be aligned, however they are definitely not built equal.  All three offer  services aimed at making the web more personalized.  Google Personalized Homepage, Microsoft Live.com/Start.com and My Yahoo! attempt to make their website yours. Here's a rundown on what each of these personalized pages offer.

Google Personalized Homepage

Compared to Microsoft's Live.com, Google's personalized homepage has been around for a long time, but it's still new relative to My Yahoo!.  Google Personalized Home utilizes AJAX to automatically update your settings and section placement without the typical "web feel".  You can drag around sections just as you would drag windows in your operating system, and drop them where you think makes most sense.  A lot of work has been put into this interface -- which start.com and live.com attempt to emulate.

Google has provided a list of information sources you can add to your personalized homepage with the click of your mouse.  If you don't see what you are looking for, you can add your own sections by providing an RSS feed of your choice.  This feature is common between all three of these services.

Each service also provides a  version of "Search History."  Essentially, this feature records for future reference anything you click on in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).  Apart from simply saving what you click, you can bookmark pages by "starring" them -- not in your browser, but in your Google account.  Since you now have your bookmarks stored on Google's servers, you can access them from any computer with internet access and a browser.

Google will also personalize your actual search results based the information it has gathered about your past surfing habits.  As you search while you are logged in, you may see at the top of some search results the ability to "Turn OFF personalized results".  These personalized results also exclude websites you have chosen to remove from SERPs in the past.

My Yahoo! 

My Yahoo! has been around for  nearly a decade, which makes it one of the first attempts at personalizing a web page.   Moving panels around is a bit more work than it is on Google because  Yahoo requires that you click the edit button, then "Move Up" or "Move Down".  Depending on the number of sections you have on your page, it could take quite a few clicks to get everything in just the right spot.

Like the other two, Yahoo lets you add your own content by means of RSS feeds.  A large part of the appeal from sites like these is the ability to customize them with information you want. Without RSS, you would be stuck only looking at the things they provide you.

One great Yahoo feature is the ability to add multiple pages of personalized content.  For example you can create one for "Home", "Work" and maybe one that is strictly for tracking your finances, your favourite sports team or celebrity gossip.  Multiple personalized pages give you more room to work without getting cramped up, and it helps to keep information that should be separate, separate.

When browsing through SERPs while logged in, you are able to save or block results.  When saving an item, you can share it with "me", "my community" or "everyone".  If you select "me" it will only be visible to yourself.  The "My Community"  option will share your bookmarks with the people you have invited to join your community, usually only friends and family.  If you select "Everyone", your bookmark will be visible on the main Web 2.0 site, where these search histories are ranked by date or popularity.  This is similar to the way del.icio.us works -- except that with Yahoo you have the option of keeping bookmarks private, or at least inside a group of friends rather than always for everybody.  Yahoo also lets you keep tabs on your "search history" just as Google does. 

Yahoo's personalization service seems to have quite a few more features than the others ,but it would still be nice if it was more AJAXy.

Microsoft Live.com/Start.com 

Microsoft has tried to replicate the same drag and drop interface that Google uses for its personalized homepage.  At the top of Live.com, if you are using Firefox, there is a message that says "Firefox support is coming soon. Please be patient :-)" which some people might find annoying.  Ironically, that message aside, the site seems to work fine in Firefox.

When a search is performed on Live.com, the results are absolutely terrifying -- difficult to read and resemble spam.  While the appearance of these results leaves a lot to be desired, however the ability to add search results to your page is something the other two services do not offer.

Live.com and Start.com also offer the ability to import or export your subscriptions to OPML which the other two do not support either. OPML can make managing your subscriptions across multiple feed aggregates, like Google Reader, very simple.

Unlike the other two, however, it does not track your search history or let you add bookmarks.  Some people may like this for privacy reasons, but for those who like more relevant results based on past search history, or the ability to keep or share bookmarks, the absence of this feature is quite noticeable. 

Comparison Chart 

Here is a chart which shows how each of these services compare.

 


Google Personalized Homepage
My Yahoo!
Microsoft
Live.com/
Start.com

Add RSS Feeds

yes

yes

yes

AJAX

yes

yes (very little)

yes

Bookmarks

yes

yes

no

Search History

yes

yes

no

Multiple Personalized Pages

no

yes

no

Import/Export OPML

no

no

yes

Color Schemes

no

yes

no

Topics: Google

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