Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thing 51. It's An Avalanche! Managing Your PLN via a Customizable Homepage

As all of this information comes at us through our PLNs, how can we organize it so that we can avoid becoming buried? And, how can we actually boost our productivity? As mentioned in Thing 28, many professionals now set up a custom homepage (or a personalized profile/start page) where they can access all of their accounts, social networks, information feeds, and contacts in one central location. My Yahoo!, Pageflakes, NetVibes, Webwag, Protopage, & iGoogle are some of the leading customizable homepages.

Each of these customizable homepages has something unique to offer.  For example, iGoogle is praised for its ease of integration and no-frills usability, whereas PageFlakes is noted for its appearance and functionality.  Due to the sheer popularity of iGoogle, it has emerged as the front-runner of customizable homepages.  If you already have an iGoogle page, you may be surprised at some of the new possibilities for your page. For both iGoogle newcomers and long-time iGoogle users, read on for the latest on iGoogle.  

If you already have Gmail or another type of Google account, you can easily start your iGoogle page using the same log-in information that you use for your other Google account(s). Conveniently, iGoogle will effortlessly link-up the Google services you already use!

If you don’t have an iGoogle account, you can get started here. This video details the process behind setting up an iGoogle account.

If you need a bit of an iGoogle brush-up, here’s a quick video called iGoogle: a Mini Product Tour that should bring you up to speed. 

If you’d like iGoogle to be your browser’s default homepage (recommended), access this link for more information.

Once you’ve created your essential iGoogle account information, you can now start customizing iGoogle to your specific needs and preferences. Many new iGoogle users start with choosing a theme for their iGoogle page. Remember, this is your start page, and you want it to be something you enjoy viewing! Whether you choose birds, swirls, your favorite model or actor, polka dots, or something else is really up to you. Google has even made Artist Themes available; this video shows off a few popular ones. 

You’ll also want to start adding specific applications and gadgets to your page. Gadgets are defined by PCMag Encyclopedia as “mini application[s] that reside on a computer desktop or personal home page, typically found in the Windows environment. Gadgets provide a myriad of functions, including customized news and stock quotes, calendar, dictionary lookups, cartoons and games.” Here is a brief overview of how to add and edit gadgets on your page.

RSS Feeds and Your iGoogle Page
One great feature of iGoogle is its ability to allow you to add RSS feeds directly to your iGoogle page.  Having a hard time remembering what RSS feeds are?  Refer back to Thing 3 from the original 23 Things on a Stick Program.

Are you in a bit of a rut with your current RSS feeds? Consider looking around for something new.
•    Do a blog search in Google. This search will limit search results to bloggers talking about what you are interested in.
•    Use the Bloglines search tool. Use the Search for Feeds option in the pull-down menu to locate interesting RSS feeds.
•    Look at LibDex for library blogs worldwide.

You can view your RSS feeds two ways on your iGoogle page, so take a minute to think through the options. You can have the feed go directly onto your iGoogle page, or manage the feed inside of your Google Reader. Either way, when you open your iGoogle page, your feeds will be there waiting for you!

To view an RSS feed directly on your iGoogle page without clicking into any gadget, follow these instructions. This is a good option if you want to pounce on new posts of a few select feeds. So, be careful to only add your favorites, and know that you can always edit how you set things up. Do this:
1.    Navigate to the blog or website you are targeting for a feed.
2.    New tab, login to your iGoogle page.
3.    Click on Add stuff towards the top right side of the screen.
4.    Click on Add feed or gadget, located underneath the Narrow by category column.
5.    Insert the RSS feed URL of your choice (from step 1 above).
6.    Click Add.
7.    The RSS feed should now be added directly to your iGoogle page.
8.    Click on Add stuff to start the process again.

Now, for the second possibility! The power of using Google Reader is in its ability to compile and organize all of your RSS feeds, and hold them together for when you have time to go to one place to get caught up on what’s new. No more navigating to site after site looking for news, let this tool do the work for you. For a refresher on Google Reader, skip on back to the original 23 Things program and read the section on Google Reader. If reading isn’t your best way to learn, check out this handy video. 

Extra tip…We love the new Google Toolbar!  
It makes it even EASIER for you to add RSS Feeds to your iGoogle page or Google Reader account.  *You may want to get permission to install the toolbar from an administrator or from technical support at your library.*  Once the toolbar is installed, if you’re visiting a site with an RSS Feed icon, simply click on the button and a prompt will appear asking if you want to add the RSS Feed to your iGoogle homepage or to your Google Reader page.  So simple! 

The time investment to set up or fine tune your Reader will be a huge productivity booster, we promise! And, you will be able to demonstrate that you are current and up to date on what’s new in library land.

As time goes on, you’ll be surprised at how your PLN grows and connects you to a larger world of people interested in things that interest you, too! Your expertise in setting up and monitoring your RSS feeds is one of your greatest tools for awareness and professional/ personal growth. Getting them in one place will make it even easier to keep up. Thing 52 shows how to use iGoogle tabs to organize your PLN--and other parts of your life.

By Kate Bessey & Patricia Post, CMLE
Gourd Avalanche by: BenoƮt Derrier

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