Organizing Your Virtual World
I don't know about you, but my mornings used to be all about a cup o' joe and time set aside for perusing the newspaper. It's been a long time since I've had actual ink and paper delivered to my doorstep, but I fondly remember opening up a newspaper and leisurely trolling for scandalous headlines, often skimming the heady news articles and jumping straight to the crossword puzzle and comics. This familiarity is comforting, to be sure. The beauty of newspapers is the way they're organized; we know what to expect when we open one up. Breaking news appears on the front page. There are sections for regional news, international news, sports and classifieds. We know exactly where to go for the type of news or entertainment we're looking for. The web, on the other hand, is a completely different animal - unless you come up with a way to tame it!
There are many ways to tame the web, using aggregators, news readers, or dashboards. Whatever name has been given these magical tools isn't important. What's important is what they do. You'll have to do some experimenting and research to see which tool works best and feels right for you. In a nutshell, once you've customized your aggregator (or reader or dashboard), you'll have all your favorite sites, blogs and social networks at your fingertips any time you're logged into your account. It's pretty amazing, and it goes down as smooth as your morning coffee.
I'll introduce the concept of an aggregator with iGoogle because I use it every day. I have a cute Paul Frank theme complete with monkeys and other fun animals. My iGoogle home page contains previews of my Gmail inbox, Facebook newsfeed, Twitter feed and Google Calendar appointments. Just for kicks I also have some random "gadgets." Google gadgets are basically widgets. If that doesn't help, a widget is a small application that fits neatly on a webpage. My gadgets are quotes of the day, phases of the moon, time, date and weather. You can put whatever you want on your dashboard. How would you feel about a crawling spider, a hamster in a wheel or a mini Frogger game? You're in luck! You can actually find these gadgets on iGoogle. In addition to all this stuff on my home page, I also have a few tabs I can flip to for other things. One is a news tab, which shows me up-to-the-minute news from a variety of local and national sources. All the big ones are available, including the New York Times, NPR, CNN and the Denver Post. A third tab aggregates blog posts from all my favorite bloggers using Google Reader. If you're into organizing things you can go nuts with a tool like this. (My blogs are arranged into categories like: "Blogs by Librarians" and "Technology.") I find iGoogle works for me because I pretty much use Google for everything. But maybe you don't.
It's okay if you aren't a Google fanatic. Yahoo actually has a very powerful dashboard called Pipes which could be tons of fun for a tech veteran (and possibly very scary for a new computer user). I also tried out Feedly and Bloglines. Both are pretty easy to use, but they look very different. Feedly has a crisp, clean look, like a fashion magazine, while Bloglines has a more functional vibe.
Do a little exploring on your own, and you'll find the dashboard of your dreams. I'm just sure of it. And when you do, don't forget to brag to your friends about how much you love your new aggregator. Likely they'll either be envious or confused, but either way it's bound to be fun, and that's what surfing the web is all about.