Web-Based Desktop Startpage Pageflakes

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In the growing era of Ajax and the web becoming more of a platform, many startups are emerging to explore the possibilities and attempt to comprehend this change in the web as a whole. Amongst them is Pageflakes, an Ajax-based web desktop startpage, which went away as the winner in its category for the SEOmoz Web 2.0 Awards back in March – quite an achievement seeing the other two respectable runner-ups are from Google and Microsoft.

After recently joining rev2.org as a sponsor (shameless self-promotion), I noticed quite funnily that I've never actually mentioned or wrote about Pageflakes on this site, despite of it being such a well-known and superior product which even I personally use on a regular basis. So, I decided to do a catchup-writeup on Pageflakes (note: I've tried to remain as unbiased as I can, and as both parties have agreed, the fact that Pageflakes is a sponsor doesn't affect my opinion in any way or vice-versa).

Concept
The concept of Pageflakes is really simple: to provide a web-based, central, customizable  and graphically-pleasing startpage and desktop. This is possible with the use of Ajax, web-APIs, and the capabilities of today's fancy web browsers. While Pageflakes follows a commendable concept, it's worth noting that it certainly didn't invent it. Others like Netvibes, Protopage, Microsoft's Start.com, and Google IG grasped it much earlier, although it's interesting to see how Pageflakes' addition changed the scope.

Pages
The thing that differentiates Pageflakes with some other startpages is that instead of having just one 'desktop' or page, you can create as many as you like. For example, I can create a page called 'News' and have kinds of news 'flakes' like BBC, Reuters, AP, and so on. Upon that, I can have another page called 'RSS' with just my RSS feeds on it. Then I can have 'Tools' with calculators and dictionaries and converters, and so on.

Pageflakes really gives the organization, customization and the personalization aspect to the user. Note that the idea of having multiple workspaces can't be done on desktop-based widget tools such as Yahoo! Widgets (previously Konfabulator) and Apple's Dashboard. This is simply a huge, huge advantage of using a web-based desktop application (for something related, see Ebraham Ezzy's post on ReadWriteWeb on this very topic).

Flakes
Once you have all the pages setup and named, the only thing that is left to do is to actually put stuff in it. Netvibes calls it 'content,' Apple calls it 'widgets,' Microsoft calls it 'gadgets,' and rightly so, Pageflakes calls it 'flakes.' No matter what the name, they're essentially the same thing: stuff. Pageflakes, as of currently, has over 100 flakes. Some are useful, some are handy, and some are just fun to use. Amongst them is a GMail Notifier, Dictionary, SMS-sending service, Price Comparison tool, Calculator, Address Book, and other tools.

The best thing about Pageflakes is that it's very Web 2.0 friendly, so you can always expect to find a flake which integrates and works with another Web 2.0 service through the use of the API. Currently, there is a Del.icio.us Cloud, Zoho Doc, Flickr tool, Box.net storage shower, MetaCafe latest-videos viewer, and a few others. They've made it incredibly easy for developers to make their own flakes, as well as for them to integrate with others.

Feeds
Unlike some of the other startpages, Pageflakes has been quick to realise the importance of RSS and feeds. To accommodate this, they've separated a 'feed' from a 'flake.' So when you click on 'Add Feed,' out comes an AJAX drop-down menu which shows many different categories ranging from 'Top Headlines' to Humor and Oddities.' Pageflakes supplies a preset list of the appropriate feeds, and if you want to add a feed that's not in there, you can simply do so through the 'enter feed' drop-down.

Once you've entered your feed, Pageflakes goes and finds it and gives you the option of either bookmarking it for later (which is then shown in the 'bookmark feeds' drop-down) or adding it to your current page. Once the feed is on your page, you see the 5 latest stories with only their titles. Click on a title, and your browser automatically turns into a fully-fetched Ajax-based RSS aggregator with the option of choosing from an 'Outlook' or 'Newspaper' view. This is simply great – Pageflakes can very easily be used as an RSS aggregator alone.

Summary
Pageflakes gives an extremely tough battle to the others in the space. With its rich feature-set, wide-selection of flakes, a fully-capable RSS aggregator, and so much more, it's very easy to see why it has walked away with the award in its category and even excelled in front of Google and Microsoft. While Netvibes, its closest competitor has a higher userbase, with a smart group of people behind it and an incredible product, there's no certainty that it will stay that way.


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