If you’ve just tuned in: I changed my usual start page to the main Wikipedia page for a few weeks to see if a very minor technological change would have an impact on my life.
READY FOR THE STARTLING CONCLUSION?
The answer is: yes.
A start page has two functions:
1. It’s the first thing you see when you fire up a new Firefox session
2. It’s basically the easiest page to return to, so it behooves you to make it something useful (Google,
Each of these two functions is completely different and so has different success metrics.
Wikipedia performed well for the first function. I became very well-informed on issues like the Mohammed cartoons controversy, and I learned about a bunch of cool stuff like the trial of David Irving, the whackjob Holocaust denying British historian. Considering my two daily must-reads are BoingBoing and Pink is the New Blog (gossip), this was a good way to get a fairly well-rounded account. The main Wikipedia page is especially cool because it has random featured articles as well as news, so you can pick up some history/factoids while skimming the headlines. So the success metric for “first thing you see on a new session”, for me, would be “Does this page help me become better informed?”
(I suspect that something like the New York Times or Salon would work just as well, though).
Wikipedia was a TERRIBLE substitute for the second. If you look at my start page, I have it all set up with everything I use on a daily basis. (The one on my server is actually a few months out of date; I’ll have to add updating it on tiara to my endless, joyless to-do list.)
Typically, I hit HOME at least a few hundred times per browsing session. I wiki direct from my mozilla address bar, so I don’t need the whole wikipedia page as a reference tool, and the zillions of links on my regular start page are WHAT I NEED TO LIVE MY LIFE ONLINE, dammit. No single solution is going to replace it.
So my metric for the second use would be “Is this the most useful online tool I could put in this space?” And by that metric, Wikipedia fails spectacularly.
So the best thing would be to integrate some sort of news feed to my start page that would pull from Wikinews, Salon and the New York Times but be unobtrusive enough not to interfere with the main function of that page, which is to provide a zillion links to everything I like.
(My real world, lazy unprogrammer workaround was to add a bookmarklet to Firefox that reads HOME and is directly below the address bar. So now I hit that 100,000 times a day.)
So what did I learn? Well, first I learned that I will absorb information somewhat osmotically if I force myself to stare at it every day, even if it’s just for the 15 seconds it takes me to hit my home made HOME button. Second, I learned that what’s more USEFUL for me is a higher priority than what I think is GOOD for me. And third, I learned that it’s interesting doing usability experiments on yourself.
(It’s also at that point when I stare into the mirror and think “Oh my god, do I need to get a life, FOR REAL.”)