I mentioned Protopage yesterday. It’s look-and-feel has so much more appeal than the standard Ajaxian portals (Google Homepage, Backbase, Start, etc.). Considering the others are more powerful functionally - given that you can do stuff like grab RSS feeds and search history - I wondered why I like Protopage so much more. There’s a lot to like, but I’ve decided one particular design decision was critical:
The portlets are free-floatingI.
By portlets, I mean all the little bits of self-managing content. In the standard Ajaxian portlet apps, you can drag-and-drop, but you’re constrained to a three-column layout, and each column must begin at the top and continue unbroken. Eschewing that approach and going for completely arbitary positioning gives Protopage several advantages:
It’s classical direct manipulation, the idea that made windowing desktops so popular. The user feels in control when they can move and drop content anywhere instead of being constrained by the desktop traffic laws. I’m saying “desktop” rather than web page because I can’t help thinking of protopage as a desktop right now (despite its name!).
Not only does the user feel in control, but the free-range arrangement makes protopage more valuable as a portal. With content arranged according to the user’s mindset, it’s easier to navigate and manage.
The design exploits whitespace. As building architects and town planners know, some space is good. It helps structure things and is visually appealling. The 3-column portals do contain space, but only by virtue of there being no content there yet - the user can’t directly create space.
Another benefit of the space is the background actually becomes useful. You can have a personalised desktop image, which can be any image URL. And the user has the power to work around any blurring effect because they are in complete control: they can move portlets around, change the background, and even change the colour scheme. Users can even arrange the portlets around the structure of the background image.
All in all, I’m impressed! Protopage is pure Ajax, one of the finest production-level Ajax apps to arrive since the hype began.