The smallworlds project aims to introduce emerging online research tools, such as Twitter and Delicious, at a grassroots level to early stage laboratory students at the University of Leicester. For many of the students that we met at the introductory sessions last week, this was their first encounter with these sites – and it was clear that they were slightly overwhelmed by the amount of websites they had signed up to at the event (the smallworlds wiki, twitter and del.icio.us to begin with)
Even as an experienced user, I still find it quite hard to grok a tried and tested method of organising and adding to my online accounts. My biggest issue is what to do when I am using a computer that is not my own – something that can happen frequently when you are at University. It’s convenient to set up your personal computer to receive information the way you like it. However, when I am using a University computer I cannot download and install desktop clients, such as Twhirl, to manage my online accounts. Furthermore, I now possess more than one account for several of my communities (See: Managing Indentites: Part One) - something that can get very confusing when it comes to adding and responding to my contacts.
A Possible Solution?
I came across sites such as Netvibes, iGoogle and Pageflakes about a year ago. They are personalised and social homepages – where you can create small, movable versions of all aspects of your web environment and save and arrange them as your own personal homepage – which is also compatible with most browsers. You can add modules such as your personal email, your favourite RSS feeds, your twitter stream and Facebook accounts – whilst each section will collect, “pull” and update the information from each website you are add to your homepage. Essentially, you can check your emails, your twitter page, read news feeds and update your Facebook status – all from your homepage. This overcomes the issue of not being able to download applications on University machines – and also allows you to check all your accounts from one location – updating as soon as new information is available. Furthermore, your personalised page is assessable from any machine – regardless if you set it as homepage or not – you log in and it logs you into everything thing at the same time.
My personal favourite has been Netvibes – I feel it is the most functional (and prettiest…) – There are two separate features that allow you to manage your online identities effectively: Private page and your public page. You can access my public page here.
[All screenshots can be seen closer by clicking the image..]
Modules, such as email, are accessed on the private area of your netvibes page – for obvious reasons. The private section allows for the user to construct an area for the daily web activities. Content is added by searching for relevant “widgets”, dragging them onto your page and inputting your log in details into each section.
I find this section particularly useful for organising my twitter accounts. I have both accounts (caffeinebomb and jennifermjones) separated by a twitter search module (see screenshot for details) - which is customised to only bring tweets with the tag “smallworlds08″ (this is so I can see what is being discussed related to the project) You can set up as many twitter search modules as you want – each one provides a quick pulse for your subject area. This is only one way of constructing a netvibes page – and as you can see along the top – you can create many different page tabs. This is a good feature if you are juggling not only many online accounts – but using multiple accounts for multiple projects. Finally, I like the fact that it will pull information, lessening the need to constantly refresh – and even if you do what to refresh, you can refresh each section separately. I leave netvibes running in the background with its own browser tab.
The public netvibes page has a very different purpose. For example, you do not see the same twitter module as you would on your private page – the public page, like your public twitter page, will only display your tweets – not the rest of your network.
I feel that a public netvibes page is a good place to display different online accounts. I guess it could be used as a dynamic data collection exercise. Again, like the private pages, users are only required to input log in details and netvibes will collect the data from each website automatically – creating a page which will update automatically when the user updates the site remotely. Again, like the private page, this is only one use – and I am interested in how other are utilising sites like Netvibes – particularly in a university environment.
This is only a very basic introduction to Netvibes – as the premise of the website includes the possiblity to generate a personalised homepage, the possibilities are endless. I would recommend to those who are new to the smallworlds project, and to sites such as twitter and delicious, to have a look at websites such as Netvibes in order to develop your own understanding of how to display and manage your online identities – I find that they are user-friendly and fun to play around with – ideal if you are new to the social media environment. Think about the separation of private and public and what each section can be used for. Some may find it that it makes cuts down on time – others may find that they benefit from having a page which contains their online identities in the one place. Remember that this is only one suggestion and it may not work for everyone. I am interested to hear any feedback from those who have tried netvibes – or indeed anyone who has anything to add!