What have you been doing all these years?

Do you know Netvibes? What about Eskobo, Pageflakes, Protopage, Schmedley and Webwag, to name just a few?

Netvibes UWA Logo

Netvibes calls itself the pioneer of the personalized startpage. Quoting their about page: “Netvibes pioneered the personalized startpage, an alternative to traditional Web portals“.

Well, dit it? Let’s travel back to 1999 when there was no such thing as AJAX or RoR, and Mike Arrington was just leaving the comfort of his office at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to dedicate his time to the “brand new Web”.

Sometime between the launch of Napster (May 1999) and the launch of pitas.com, the free weblog hosting (July 1999), someone in the UK launched “a one-day hack” which provides a nice, concise view of news from several sites (in LWN, July 1, 1999). Better than that, he published the source code of his creation, allowing anyone to use it and change it. Quoting freshmeat‘s project entry from August 8, 1999:

Portaloo is a set of reading tools for RSS format files (my.netscape.com, etc.) and rendering these. It can cope with arbitary input formats and also includes gathering tools for other sites. Portaloo needs no writeable disk storage, uses cookies for control and can run round robin across multiple web servers under load.

Of course this is a very technical description to what we now call a personalized startpage. Portaloo was, at that time the free, open source version of the then popular My Netscape. Netscape launched its personalized startpage at the end of 1998 and it allowed the visitor to add and remove boxes or channels. You could search the Web, access your e-mail messages, and even chat with your friends via IM.

My Netscape, ca. 1998

What happened since then? A lot, actually. First, the bubble, leaving only the big players intact. Then, a new generation of Web adventurers started to emerge, experimenting with new technologies and ideas.

So, what have you been doing all these years?

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