As we now utilise Google apps in the University I thought one means of managing at least some of this information might be using iGoogle. I was a bit reticent at first; iGoogle is not something I have heard many people talk about these days and I feared its popularity had dwindled over the last year or two. Not least thanks to Google's renewed focus on other services like G+ launched in 2011.
However, it did seem to be the only homepage that could manage my Google apps effectively. So I thought I would give it a go for a few weeks to see if it would make managing my information easier...
iGoogle works through adding gadgets, and you can add as many as you would like from their gadget list. The gadget lists are organised into various headings and each gadget incorporates a 5 star user rating system. Examples of the gadget list headings include the most popular users, editors picks and ones created by Google themselves. Some user-created gadgets I noticed didn’t work properly (or at all) or were pretty much useless. I suppose this is to be expected given that there are so many, so it's a bit like trawling the iPhone app store.
By clicking the now (in)famous Google cog at the top right of the screen you can access the iGoogle page settings. This is quite an important feature as you can define how your page layout is going to look and you can also select what content is going to end up on what page... (I will come back to this element later).
The good bits
1.) It does manage my Google apps
The best news about it is that it does manage my Google apps quite effectively. I can view Gmail, Calendar, Google docs, Google Reader and chat in one page. The gadgets also update automatically so the latest Google docs I have been working on will show up first in that gadgets window. I can also click on any of the gadgets to open up that particular one to full screen. So if I want to work on a particular document then I can click on the gadget link, or the document link within the Google doc gadget, and start working on it full screen straight away.
My information page
2.) It does manage my feeds
Not a complete win, but I can get a Twitter gadget to show me a particular user’s Twitter feed. I have to add that gadget a number of times in order to get different users feeds but that’s a minimal hassle to set up. There is also a gadget for G+; and again if I have a couple of accounts (which I do) I can add it twice if I wish. I also added Google reader which enabled me to view RSS feeds from Blogger and the iParadigms' plagiarism advice site. Finally, I added a couple of instances of a YouTube gadget which allows me to view particular channels' videos.
my media page
The not so good bits
1.) What no tabs?
In iGoogle you can have a number of different pages. I set up two; “my information” and “my media” (pics above). If you’re familiar with something like Netvibes you will know that you can do the same thing but have your pages nicely organised into tabs across the top. A previous incarnation of iGoogle gave you your pages down the left hand side; but this new version gives you a rather small drop down list. I can flit about between the pages by selecting the drop down but it would be so much easier to have incorporated tabs.
2.) Getting to your homepage in the University
There seems to be no really quick and easy way to get to your University iGoogle page. You can either:
a.) Add it as a bookmark in your browser; but this means you have to sign in to Gmail first and then again into MUSE.
b.) Sign into MUSE first, click Google apps, then from the black Google apps tool bar select “more” and scroll down to find it....this gets annoying quite quickly.
3.) Use of space
I can’t help but think that there could have been more made of the space at the upper part of the page. It does feel like the gadgets are crammed in a bit. Adding a theme to the page (which you can do from settings) doesn't seem to change things at all.
Will I keep using it?
For now? Yes.
As I am using Google docs, calendar and Gmail almost all of the time so it does help me flit between the main apps and helps me keep an eye on all things Google. More importantly, the fact that I am in iGoogle reminds me that I should look at my media feeds; and I then have much quicker access to a range of feeds.
Is there something better that we could use?...very possibly, and I would love to hear of anyone who has some other solutions...