Saturday, August 04, 2012

Replacing iGoogle

The family is taking a few days of R&R in DC starting tomorrow.  So today, instead of preparing for my class this fall, which would have been the responsible thing to do as the semester is rapidly approaching, I spent a good chunk of the day looking for an iGoogle substitute.  Apparently it is going away next year.  In my futzing around I was looking into seeing whether I can duplicate all the function I've currently got and in a reasonably easy to do way.  The bottom line is that I couldn't.  In some cases I could make substitutes that were more or less close to what I've got in iGoogle.  I will detail some of my efforts below and give some comments about whether I view those substitutes as adequate.

I tried two different alternatives: (1) Blogger and (2) Google Sites.  I don't know if anything I write here will get read by folks at Google, but if it does one message I'd like to see delivered is that one or both of these other tools should be built up a bit more before iGoogle is is permanently closed. That would help users like me make the transition readily and thereby stay loyal to the company.  

For anyone who'd like to compare what I've done to the original I have in iGoogle you can download my settings file and import it into your own iGoogle.  It won't be identical to what I see, because what some of the gadgets show depends on that person's login.  But it will show enough so you can get an idea.  I want to compare that to this Blogger page, which I created today.

The two biggie items are the Gmail Gadget and the Google Calendar gadget, but let me start with something that should be simpler, rss feeds.  The iGoogle gadget for an rss feed is actually quite slick, at least compared to the alternatives available.  Items in the iGoogle gadget feed are shown with the subject header and a triangle next to the header.  If you click the triangle then the feed expands to include the text and images from that post, along with any hyperlinks.  So you can read the full post right in iGoogle, but if you are done with it you can click the triangle again and the post rolls back up so all you see is the header.  The gadget can accommodate up to 5 items that way. 

Google Sites is a bit better than Blogger for rss feeds at present.  There is no little triangle to click but you can choose either no summary, a partial summary or the full post.  The basic rss gadget for blogger does post titles only, no summary whatsoever.  Then there is a different gadget specifically for feeds from Blogger blogs.  I've got one of those for the Lanny on Learning Technology blog.  (I want that gadget to know when the most recent post has updated and appears.  So that gadget works like the one in Google Sites, but it does so only for Blogger blogs.  Since I do want to see summaries and sometimes the full post, for other rss feeds I used RSS to Javascript and then used the HTML/Javascript gadget.  That works reasonably well, but it is an additional step to generate the Javascript and now there are more possible ways that something can go wrong.   When things go right this solution is an okay substitute for iGoogle, but it does take up more vertical space, which is unfortunate.

Let me observe one more thing about RSS that simply didn't occur to me before trying this.  One of my favorite feeds is the Quote Of The Day.  Perhaps once every couple of weeks there is a quote I'll use in my own writing.  The RSS feed for it, unfortunately from my point of view, has ads.  It turns out the NY Times main feed has ads as well.  The iGoogle gadgets for these are without the ads.  How that is possible, I'm not sure.  I understand the providers of the content need the ads, but as viewer of the content the ads lessen the experience.  For the Quote Of The Day, I decided to simply grin and bear it, but move the feed lower on the page so I have to scroll to read the items. For the New York Times, I discovered that the feed for the Global Edition doesn't have ads.  So I switched to that.  Of course the content is different too.  But when I click through to the paper I then get to see the items I've missed.

Let me switch now to the Weather gadget which I got from  Google Sites does have a recommended weather gadget, but the default is to give the weather for NYC and my experience was that even when I put in my own location for the weather if I reloaded the page it would return to the default.  So instead I created an account at to get a badge for my location.  The code for that needs an HTML/Javascript gadget.  It works fine in Blogger, and is in the right sidebar of my page.  It didn't work in Google Sites.  I'm guessing it had some code that Google Sites doesn't accept.  You'll also notice a Dow Jones Industrial Average gadget in the right sidebar, if you scroll down further.  I didn't even try that one in Google Sites.  That it does work in Blogger has me thinking that's what I'll use when push comes to shove.

Now let me turn to the Google Calendar gadget.  It is very nice.  It shows upcoming events in a list as well as the calendar.  It is quick to scan for what's upcoming today or in the next few days.  Moreover, via the sync with outlook, this is really the same as looking at my outlook calendar.  So I like that gadget a lot.  The alternative is to embed the actual Google Calendar via an iFrame.  I've put that in the middle, in an actual blog post, because that is wider than the sidebar.  It is okay.  By switching views I can see what's coming up.  But it requires a couple of clicks where before it was immediate. 

The Gmail gadget is also very nice.  In this case my gmail account is not connected to my Outlook so this is only mail that is unrelated to University business.  Nevertheless, I'd like to monitor it.  But there is no gadget that let's you do that in either Blogger or Google Sites, as far as I can tell and I did try this for several hours.  Google sites says it has a gadget to let you log into Gmail.  But I couldn't see how to configure it for that purpose.  So I've put Gmail into my bookmarks gadget and will try to remember to right click the link and open Gmail in another tab.

Can I function this way with Blogger as an iGoogle substitute?  Yes, I can.  Will I be happy about switching away from iGoogle?  No I won't.  Perhaps with the economy the way it is everyone is defining progress down, Google included.


Lanny Arvan said...

Here's a little addendum to the initial post. It looks like all the RSS to Javascript feeds are not working. It's hard to know if that is simply a temporary thing or a regular issue that will recur. I don't want to say it can't work, but it is disappointing to have these issues so early on into trying the approach.

Anonymous said...

Well, a replacement would be nice indeed, but it can’t really match the original iGoogle and doesn’t really add value to your startpage... I feel it’s somehow a downgrade from the original iGoogle.

You you will enjoy the change, I felt a real Upgrade after I start using

It has a beautiful interface, you will love it!

Luuk said...

Also have a look at Doesn't have all iGoogle features, but it works great as simple startpage.