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When I first started using the internet, web portals were all the rage.  I remember I used Excite, even having an @ Excite email address.  There was also Alta Vista and others.  With the advent of Google the web portal went into decline although its shell is still visible at such places as Yahoo and MSN.  Back in the day, web portals were utilized as a means of keeping you confined within the walls of a single service.  Even today if you sign up with comcast internet they set Yahoo as your homepage and you can see how many folks then use Yahoo as their email and then go on to use yahoo finance and yahoo sports, etc…  The portal made the web sticky, it kept you within the walls of its corporate owner as much as possible.  Remember how folks used to think that AOL WAS the internet?  To a large degree Google helped break down these walls.

[Edit: Sure there are modern portals called Personal Pages, like Netvibes, iGoogle, My Yahoo, etc…  Unfortunately, the amount of data that they need to pull make them fairly useless as a home page, and even more unwieldy to use as a new tab page. Even after pulling the data you need to wait while your PC renders all the ajaxy stuff.   I dutifully test each release but continue to find them all to be to slow for my taste.]

Still, I am partial to the concept.  It continues to make sense to me.  So for a number of years I have maintained my own portal.  Recently I have come up with a way to make it more useful…that is what this post is about.

First I installed about:tab a Firefox extension from Mozilla labs.  About:tab monitors what you type into the Firefox address bar and presents you with links to the sites you type in the most on your new tab page.  After a few weeks it was clear which sites I was typing in the most.

Then beginning with my original portal page, I incorporated the sites that I had been typing in the most.  I dropped extra text, dropped javascript widgets, and took a cue from the Google monster and dropped the unnecessary colors.  The result (posted to an unused domain) is that I rarely have to type anything into the address bar.  And my homepage and new tab page are fast and useful.

I simply type “foggytown” and hit shift+enter (to add the http and .net) and viola, links that meet 98% of my needs are ready to get clicked on, no matter where I am accessing the internet from.

Of course setting the new portal as my home page goes without saying (or it did till I “said” it).  To further make things easier, I replaced the about:tab extension with New Tab Homepage which puts your homepage into any empty new tab that is opened.

This whole process took about an hour of work.  I estimate that it saves me a full minute or two each day, meaning I get my time back in one or two months…after that it is all extra free time.

This method gives me quick, typing free, access to the websites that I use most.  My new and improved home page is here…but don’t copy mine, make one that fits your needs.  After all, we all have different habits and requirements.

My personal web portal, plus Mozilla Lab’s Weave (a browser sync extension, Firefox 3.5 required), gives  me a smooth and continuous browsing experience–regardless if I am using my desktop, my laptop, or my work computer.  (When my phone needs upgraded, a major consideration will be the ability to run Fennec.  Fennec is still in early development and only supports a limited set of platforms.  With my phone having about two more year of  life left to it, I can wait for its progress.)

Thankfully, the web continues to evolve and we are not stuck with dodgy sites like Yahoo and AOL…to steal a phrase from Mozilla: take back the web.

Edit: I forgot to mention that adding some search fields to the portal makes it much more useful.  I use search fields for Google, Bing, and Wikipedia…you can get the code by “viewing source” on the portal page.

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