Stump the Geeks

Options for grieving Google Reader and iGoogle users

March 31, 2013 

Q. Is there any way that my IP can enter a filter on my home page that will completely block any reference to photographs or mention of the word “Kardashian?” Thank you in advance.

John

A. If you’re looking to purge your home page of pop culture and other less-than-desirable content, you’ve basically got two related options: filtering or customization.

Several services offer users the ability to build a customized home page. But this market has narrowed considerably with Google’s announcement last July that it would shut down iGoogle on Nov. 1, 2013. The same death notice came in March for Google Reader, which automatically pipes in content from Web sites you select via RSS, or "Really Simple Syndication." Its funeral is set for July 1.

As with any upheaval that creates a massive hole in the market, several existing companies are rushing in to fill the void.

Grief-stricken users of iGoogle are attempting to make navigating that flood of options a little easier with a sortable comparison chart of about 70 alternatives. The all-volunteer effort, available at SaveiGoogle.org, breaks down competing products by factors like whether they display ads or if they’re available on mobile devices.

If you’re looking to aggregate content from multiple sources via RSS, you should check out Pulse or Feedly, two slick, free apps accessible via the Web or mobile devices. Both, incidentally, allow you to migrate content from Google Reader before the search giant flips the off switch.

Content filtering

Of course, RSS feeds and customizable home pages will only get you so far. The content you see is entirely dependent upon the feed you choose, and there’s always a chance some Kardashian sister will make it past your firewall.

Content filtering, however, puts the control in your hands. But it’s often a blunt instrument.

OpenDNS, which I’ve written about before, can block whole sites classified as pornography, general time wasters or other categories you choose.

AdBlock, available free for multiple browsers, automatically erases what it deems "annoying" ads like flashy banners and pop-ups.

Then there’s Unwhatever.me. This extension uses a list of keywords to remove all those unwanted Facebook posts from your friends and replaces them with other content on your feed. So instead of political rants or baby updates, you’ll see cats instead (or some other content of your choosing).

“Filter Bubble”

Granted, these options won’t solve your celebrity gossip problem altogether. But maybe that’s a good thing.

Drowning out a diverse collection of content in favor of the information you just want to hear can eventually land you in an echo chamber. It’s called the “filter bubble,” and it can make savvy news consumers less informed overall. While I can’t see any terribly redeeming quality about keeping up with the latest relationship update from Kim and Kanye, you never know.

One final note in the way of a correction. A reader emailed in response to my last column on password security managers, where I mentioned I had previously discussed LastPass and 1Password.

I was wrong. I’ve actually written before about Password Safe, an open-source password management system. Sorry for the confusion.

I’ll try to take a look at these two commercial systems, which are among the most popular on the market now, in a future column.

Send technology questions to stumpthegeeks@newsobserver.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number. Sorry, we can’t answer every question.

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