Bye-bye, iGoogle; a moving tale

Alice and the Red Queen running, John Tenniel illustration to Alice in Wonderland, or Through the Looking Glass
Alice and the Red Queen running hand in hand — Illustration to the second chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass by John Tenniel.

Rats. I know very well by by now that keeping pace with technology is like running with the Red Queen. In fact, I usually welcome new products and innovations with eagerness. But then, this unwelcome message showed up at the top of my iGoogle page, and struck at the foundation of my long-time (web) home like an eviction notice:

notice of iGoogle deprecation

Sigh. The Google service I use most, about to retire. Still, there’s 16 months remaining to find another service to replace iGoogle; this post talks about my first attempt to transition to something new.

To explain: I’ve been using iGoogle as my web homepage/portal/dashboard for some time now, both on the Firefox and Chrome browsers. It is a combination of an RSS aggregator, a portal for GTalk and Google+, a home for widgets such as local weather forecasts and my virtual pet hamster . . . (more about him later). In short, it was a quick place to start the day, catch up on news, and follow some favorite blogs.

Using iGoogle as a home page gives me a one-stop overview of selected web content, and I generally used it as a jumping place for more in-depth reading. For me, iGoogle pretty much serves as a web-based, self-designed, press clipping agency — to use a 19th-century analogy –for topics of interest. It may not be the trendiest tool for doing this, and is getting a bit elderly and dated-looking after seven years, but it also represents several years of my web-crawling, finding interesting feeds. Imagine iGoogle as a houseboat, anchored in a fast-running river, a good place to sit and watch headlines and trends flow by. Now, I find it will soon be imperative to jump the ship I’ve called home for what seems like forever. (Four years at most. Did I mention how fast that data stream moves?)

There are quite a few blog posts 1 that describe iGoogle alternatives. Netvibes is among the most frequently mentioned iGoogle replacements, a page that has a similar portal-like appearance, the ability to add feeds and widgets, (just like iGoogle), with apps, extensions, and some new features, such as tabs, and the ability to have multiple “dashboards” about different topics. Another plus is that Netvibes has an import feature that promises to bring over as much iGoogle content as it can using a simple import tool. I don’t want to re-create all of my blog links, so I decided to give Netvibes a try.

Netvibes first invited me to chose a channel of interest, so I selected the “high-tech” one, because it already contained some of the feeds I follow. This is what the “vanilla” Netvibes page transformed into:

Netvibes pre-populated with high-tech feeds

. . . as compared to my iGoogle page, which looks like this:

my current iGoogle page

Most of my iGoogle content is RSS feeds from blogs; the weather and hamster widgets are Google third-party add-ons; on the left side is a dashboard showing the availability of friends and colleagues for chat or video calls, and at the top is a reminder that I have one new message in Google+.

I notice that Netvibes is not just one page, as is iGoogle, but has a series of customizable tabs, and an ability to switch Dashboards, if I want to check out other topics in addition to high-tech one I selected.

On the blog tab in Netvibes, is Netvibes’ own blog, including a post that looks very helpful:

blog post on how to move from iGoogle to Netvibes

Three steps sounds good!

To begin, I logged into the iGoogle account I want to convert, and downloaded a file by clicking on a link given in the Netvibes blog post above — I saved the downloaded xml file to local disk using a simple text editor.

Second, I opened the downloaded xml file, to see that the xml describes all my iGoogle feeds and gadgets. This, I think, is looking promising.

As instructed, I copy and paste the xml into the first box on the Netvibes blog page:

Netvibes import and convert text boxes

Next, I converted the XML to OPML by clicking the button under the Netvibes text box where I’ve just pasted the XML. More code magically appeared in box 2!

I then copied the OPML code from the second box to a new text file, and saved it to my desktop.

To complete the third step, I needed first to create a free account at Netvibes. That only took filling out a simple screen with username, password, valid email address, and a captcha field:

Netvibes create new account screen

After agreeing to terms of service and submitting, I checked my email for a validation link to activate my new Netvibes account. One click later, and I was signed into my own Netvibes page, which also remembered my choice to have a “high-tech” dashboard.

Now, to transfer my feeds from iGoogle, I clicked on the big green “Add Content” button at the top left of my Netvibes home page, and selected the “Add a Feed” option:

Add content dialogue box in Netvibes

In small print under the text box to add a feed, I see options to import or export OPML. Those are the tools I’m looking for.

I import the iGoogle OPML backup I just created by uploading the saved text file.

(46 feeds are imported in about two seconds! This new houseboat isn’t so bad!)

I also see an option next to the OPML tools in the Add Content box to download a Firefox extension for Netvibes. I grab that too.

All my blog feeds are now on my Netvibes Home page:

My iGoogle content imported to Netvibe

The RSS feeds I imported are in no particular order, and look a bit boring, so I’ll have to arrange them as I like later. The weather widget and the virtual pet hamster didn’t make the transition, nor did I expect them to, as they were written expressly for iGoogle, but the Netvibes blog informs me that they are currently working an a new tool to import iGoogle apps.

I now have a new Netvibes account, and six tabs full of content to explore. My old feeds are all intact on my new Home page, and I see there is much content to explore on the other tabs. I’ll update this post after I’ve moved the furniture and dragged things around on what might be my new personalized web home page.

For now I see, there are themes (!) and views to spruce up feeds to mess around with, so I’ll catch up on this topic later.

Bye-bye hamster, I’ll miss you.

(Update: aBowman’s hamster widget also lives in Netvibes. So, new houseboat also allows pets!)

flash hamster plugin by aBowman
Animated hamster widget, created by aBowman.

Update: New Netvibes personal home page, prettified. The hamster rests his case:

My netvibes page after customization
Weather, a feed ticker, pretty pics and a sleeping hamster. Home, again.