Protopage: a model for News 2.0?

I’m really impressed by the enhancements to – and although I still haven’t made the big decision to make it my default homepage, I’m beginning to understand why these ‘personalised start pages’ are generating such a buzz.

Google does it, Microsoft does it, Yahoo has done it for ages. The Paris-based Netvibes is (or certainly was) the leading upstart start-up in the field. But I find myself warming most to Londoners Protopage, and it might just be a question of the presentation. I love the way you can set a photograph as your ‘wallpaper’, just like on your PC. I love the way it handles thumbnails from Flickr feeds (etc). It’s nice to be able to configure all the colour settings, just how you want them – and lots of colour gradients… mmm, nice. Putting several RSS feeds in one box is cool too. Others – I’m thinking of Netvibes in particular – look more powerful, but feel too cold.

Protopage seems to understand that the key word here is ‘personal’. It needs to feel friendly. If you haven’t played around with any of these services, I highly recommend Protopage. Oh, and if you’ve never seen a site which lets you ‘drag and drop’ stuff around the page, you will be blown away. Brace yourself.

So here’s the radical thought. I don’t think this business is going to go away… too much big-player involvement, too many RSS feeds to aggregate. So maybe the big publishers, media and government, should be looking at how they can get into it too?

There are already early moves in the US, as social media guru Steve Rubel notes. Sports channel ESPN lets you build your own page, including (by the look of it) only-use-it-here feeds, and lets you theme it according to your favourite team. There are nascent efforts at the New York Times and Wall St Journal. (You’ll have to register to test them, sadly.)

I’ve mentioned here before that Sky News is getting a long overdue relaunch next year… and maybe it should be along these lines. 1024×768 screen resolutions give plenty of space to play with. How about a big picture-led treatment of the lead story, headlines and summaries for the ‘second tier’, a few features from the correspondents, and a couple of ‘image galleries’ showing expandable thumbnails. And then, crucially – let people manipulate it. Change the colour, change the wallpaper, add their own local weather, add their own RSS feeds. If we’re happy to accept user-generated content, why not user-generated sub-editing too?

And what should government do? Simple… RSS, and lots of it. I find it staggering how few government departments are pumping out RSS, a technology which is embarrassingly simple to implement, and costs zero pounds extra to run on top of your existing CMS work.