Create your own page

By Laura Zurawski, CONTROL ENGINEERING March 1, 1999

Search engines are becoming more sophisticated, and many now offer an option of creating your own personalized start page. This is a page powered by a particular company’s search engine that you can customize to display all the information you want on one page, which is then usually selected to be the first page your browser opens when you start the program. This is a great way to keep track of everything you need to on a daily basis, from news in your industry, town, or country, to stock quotes, weather, sports scores, television listings, calendars and reminders, even horoscopes. By creating a personalized page with a search engine you eliminate the need to re-visit the same links over and over and instead have the information you need displayed right away in one place.

The emergence of portals
These days, search engines don’t stand alone anymore. They are now just smaller parts of a larger picture. Many Internet companies have turned their web sites into portals, which are meant to be self-contained little Internet communities that can fulfill most of your Internet requirements in one location. Portals have the means by which you can personalize the appearance of what the server returns back to you. This is done by any number of methods involving programming on the server side to identify a particular user and return an individualized set of information back to that user.

The way a portal (and quite a few other web sites these days) can indentify you when you access its site is by a small snippet of programming code called a cookie that is sent to your personal computer’s hard drive by the web site’s server the first time you access the site. The cookie sits on your hard drive from then on, and every subsequent time you call up the web site, the site’s server will look for that cookie. Once it finds the cookie, it knows who you are and what information you want to see. As long as you don’t delete the cookie from your hard drive, the web site will always remember who you are.

What you want, when you want it
Portals came into existence because of the growing number of Internet companies trying to lure customers to their services. By providing a larger number of services to the user besides just search functions, portals hope to create a kind of ‘superstore’ mentality– the more one can find in one place, the less often one will have to look elsewhere or use a competitor’s product.

The user benefits from this competition by getting quite a lot of nice features in a singular, often completely free package. Search functions are just the beginning. You can get personalized news and information from all over the world delivered to your desktop several times a day. You can do a large portion on your online shopping from the same site. You can connect to chat rooms, play online games, sell something in the classifieds, look up phone numbers and addresses, even check your local TV listings, all from the same startup page. Most portals offer free e-mail as well. As the competition heats up, more services are added.