Want a Fast Start? Get Personal!

The skinny on My Yahoo!, My Excite, and My Netscape.

On the Web, you are where you start. Being smart about your “default page” (the site that comes up when you load your browser) is a smart way to get the most out of your time on the Web. Fortunately, as more and more search engines redefine themselves as “portals,” they are offering tools to help you create a customized default page — a personalized site that offers news stories you care about, updates on your stock portfolio, box scores for the sports teams that you root for, and, yes, even reminders about your mother’s upcoming birthday. Here are three great ways to get personal on the Web.

Site My Yahoo! My Excite My Netscape
Personal Touch Yahoo! takes personalization to new heights. You can choose what you want to appear not only on your main “My Yahoo!” page but also on each Yahoo! channel. It’s like having a whole Web site devoted to your special interests. All you, all the time. Unlike other portals, on which personalization is just a nifty feature, Excite is built around catering to your interests. Set up your page, and that’s what you’ll see every time you visit Excite. The information you want, available wherever you are. My Netscape lets you import your address book and bookmarks from your desktop browser right into your personal home page. It’s a step toward creating the so-called Webtop.
Look & Feel It loads faster than any of the other personal — portal sites — which is important if you’re going to start your day with it. But it loses in aesthetic appeal what it gains in speed. It’s easy to make and change layout and color-scheme decisions, right down to choosing how many headlines you want to see in each news category. (To preview what you’ve done, just click “redraw.”) The site follows the conventions of a Windows interface, so you can maximize, minimize, or delete sections with the click of a mouse. But it takes a long time to load — even on Netscape’s browser!
What’s News Yahoo! is the place to go for global news. It’s also the place to go if you follow a sport that your local newspaper doesn’t cover. (Cricket, anyone?) And it offers lots of options for getting industry-specific news. You can tailor Reuters and UPI news feeds to your industry or your sports team. For very narrow topics that you watch closely — like your company or a competitor — you can use the “NewsTracker Clipping Service.” You get Reuters news, with CNet providing high-tech coverage and with NewsEdge covering business. The options here are comprehensive, but not as specific as those on the other portal sites.
Cool Tools The site’s “Auto Loan Monitor” and “Mortgage Monitor” make it easy to keep an eye on rates in your state or in states near you. Road warriors, meanwhile, can track airfare deals and check the weather in cities they visit frequently. If you’re like most Web surfers, you find yourself conducting the same searches over and over again. “Saved Searches” gives you an efficient way to reach your regulars without starting from scratch. Do you spend lots of time watching your stocks? Then check out the site’s calculator feature, which wil tally your capital-gains taxes. The “Web Search” function lets you choose which of several search engines you’d like to use.
Gee-Whiz If you’re a stock-market junkie, this is the place to get your fix. Along with quotes, portfolio tracking, charts, SEC filings, company news, and summaries of analyst reports, My Yahoo! offers a wealth of background information on your stocks. In the paperless-office department: With “Notepad,” you can record musings right on your home page and view them the next time you log on. “My Reminders” notifies you of holidays as well as birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. After you import your address book, you can have the site send a fax (by attaching a file to someone in your address book) or set up a conference call. Note: The site charges a fee for these services.
My Bummer How personal is too personal? You’ll spend more setup time on this site than on other portal sites, since you will be customizing numerous pages, not just a central home page. Daily surfing also tends to take longer than it does on other portals. The “Movie Listings” section bombs. Click on the name of a flick, and you might expect to find out where the movie is playing and at what time. Instead, you get a generic movie review. The technology of My Netscape is much stronger than its content. Especially in its finance section, this site lacks many of the personalized-information options that the other sites offer.