iGoogle tested

[intro] The Google Personalized Homepage has been updated with a few new tricks up its sleeve, but is it worth setting as your default? [/intro]

[intro] The Google Personalized Homepage has been updated with a few new tricks up its sleeve, but is it worth setting as your default? [/intro]

There are now thousands of personalised homepage services to choose from, providing a one-stop space for all your RSS feeds, video content, themes, tools and so on. Google has just rebranded its Personalised Homepage to the snappier iGoogle. And because it's the spawn of the Googleplex, you can expect it to be a little cleverer than most. Here are some of the highlights:

• A huge range of pre-selected gadgets and feeds on offer – from world sunlight maps to a virtual aquarium, or you can add your own by typing in a url

• iGoogle will check your location via domain and suggest gadgets to add based on this (ie BBC news rather than CNN)

• "Magic Tabs" – type in a subject line in a new tab and iGoogle will give you the "Feeling Lucky" option to populate it with the most popular content that others have chosen for that field

• Email content – many personalised homepages are linked to a specific email provider, but the Google guys magnanimously let you choose from a list including Yahoo and Hotmail

But the real draw has to be Gadget Maker, which allows you to create your own gadgets quickly and simply using a wizard, without a degree in computer science. You can then invite mates to view and use your gadget in a new "My Community" section, or make it public for anyone to use (ie listed in the Google Gadgets directory). Here's what you can do:

• Add up to seven photos that can be rotated (woo-hoo – bring on the dancing girls!)

• Enter seven greeting messages with GoogleGram ("Happy Wednesday to me")

• Daily Me – a mini blog for your home page (type in "I am currently typing in my blog on the iGoogle homepage")

• Countdown - count the days until a special event (when it's home time, for instance)

• Simple list - you can use it as a ToDo list, shopping list (things to do: get out more)

• YouTube videos (display up to ten hilarious clips of cats in washing machines)

• Freeform gadget - add an image and some text

OK, so the simplistic style of "Gadget Wizard" demotes it to the rank of trainee mage, but for the uninitiated internet user it's a nice touch – and it ups the personalisation and interaction stakes compared to most homepage providers.

Of course, buying into the Google brand isn't for everyone – the choice of skins are predictably cutesy and the fact that Google can potentially know where you are, what you're interested in AND what you're doing can be kinda freaky for some. Me? I've got nothing to hide, and it's one of the the most user-friendly and innovative homepage designers on the market. Just remember to add Stuff.tv, OK?