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  Practice Management Advisors

Disposable News: Anatomy of iGoogle

December 2008

This month marks the debut of this new column, Your Practice Management Advisor, in Law Practice Today. It will feature content from the Practice Management Advisors. PMA’s are consultants who work for state bar associations, law societies or some other law-related entity whose primary job is to help lawyers with practice management advise. This column will vary between group authorship and individual authorship For more information about PMA programs, including the contact information for the program in your area or information on how to get such a program started, visit www.abanet.org/practicemanagementadvisors.

We are all dealing with information overload. Now there are tools available to help organize all the information coming at us from every direction. But sadly, the number of organizational tools available has also become part of the information overload.

We want to show you how you can easily set up your own personalized “online newspaper” that will provide you with the content you desire. For an investment of less than an hour of your time, you can get news and sports headlines, practice management assistance and updates from almost any information source you can imagine, all organized for you at a site you will be regularly visiting.

Behold iGoogle, the personal information portal.

Think of your iGoogle page as your daily newspaper, except this one is updated constantly and serves up news and other timely information from sources you have selected. The reason why we like this analogy is that the newspaper is today’s news. Rarely would you read yesterday’s newspaper and you would almost never read last week’s paper.

iGoogle is handy! When you need to use Google for search, it is there. You can quickly scroll down and see some current headlines. You can click to read more if you wish or just move on. There will be more news tomorrow. If you missed part of the news while you were in trial last week, you just missed it.

So if you’ve heard of about these great internet news sources, but never really had time to learn how to use RSS Newsfeeds, this simple tutorial is for you. If you have set up a RSS newsreader, but never seem to be able to find the time to go and read all of the items that it collects, then this article is really for you!

iGoogle is also referred to as the Google homepage. But this is not the Google Reader, which is a “traditional” RSS feed reader/news aggregator (what’s RSS? Read this primer). iGoogle offers much more than just RSS feed reading,

While the customizable homepage is not a new concept – MyWay, MyYahoo and many others provide some sort of personal portal – iGoogle, by sheer force of the power of Google, offers substantially more than the competition including gadgets for LinkedIn, Facebook, the Google applications “suite” and a host of third party gadgets that do everything from offer a word of the day to stock tickers to the weather.

Getting Started

All you need is a free Google login. We think everyone should have one of these logins to use Google services such as Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar.

If you do not already have an iGoogle page, or have never actually customized the page, start out by going to http://www.google.com/ig and get started. Google will offer to help by customizing the information that appears on your page based on geographic location. After that you will have a page that can be customized however you like, as often as you like. You will need to login to Google, using either your Gmail username and password or your Google username and password. Unless you refuse the cookie, you will stay logged in almost perpetually as long as you use it. If that is of concern, make sure to logout when you leave your session.

As with all things Internet-based, one benefit of iGoogle is that it is available to you wherever you can get access to the Internet. We actually like the idea that when you need to use Google for searching, you are now presented with your iGoogle page instead of the mostly blank Google home page.

Getting Organized

Once you have the initial iGoogle page you will want to start adding feeds and gadgets. Feeds, or newsfeeds, are stories you may read in your newspaper. These can come from traditional news services, or blog posts or any one of a number of sources. The Oklahoma Supreme Court releases its opinions via RSS feeds, for example, as do a few other courts. You may hover the cursor over a headline to read the first paragraph or so of the story or click on the link to be taken to the original item.

You can organize your feed content that you add by creating subject headings in the left navigation. This is a recent change in iGoogle, which formerly used tabs.

Create a subject heading called “family law” or “Google Apps” or “legal technology” to begin creating subpages that let you access the information you want more quickly. If you do not create subject headings, the iGoogle default page will get crowded quite quickly. (But if you just want to start with a few feeds displayed on the default page, that it perfectly fine, too. We just think you will grow out of that phase soon.)

The subject headings are easy to change and it is easy to move a feed or a gadget into a different subject heading by dragging and dropping. To add a new subject heading in the left navigation you will need to start in the default heading of “home” and click on the square box with the downward arrow on the right of the title. A drop down menu will appear. You will then click on “add a tab” to create a new subject heading, which subsequently creates a new page for content. When you add a new tab iGoogle will ask the tab name with an option to automatically add items based on the tab name. This is a nifty feature that will pre-populate a page with some RSS feeds and gadgets for that keyword. For instance, the tab name “legal” pre-populates the page with RSS feeds from CNN Law and recent decisions from the US Supreme Court, among others. You can delete any of these that you wish.

As we said, Google Gadgets do an amazing number of things. This means your newspaper page can have cartoons, stock quotes, games or weather features as opposed to just stories.

Adding “Stuff” to iGoogle

There are two ways to add gadgets and feeds to iGoogle –reactively and proactively.

Reactive adding is pretty simple so we will cover it first. As you surf the web and run across a useful website or blog, remember to look for the option to subscribe to new content via RSS. This is the reactive way to add content to your iGoogle portal.

For instance, you can subscribe to Law Practice Today via RSS! If you would prefer to see new content in iGoogle, rather than via the email update, click on “RSS feed” from the email version to see the feed for LPT, and click on “add this feed to your personalized Google homepage” to keep up with the latest edition outside of your inbox. If you run across a site that offers feeds, but does not have an obvious way to add it to your iGoogle page, don’t worry. Simply copy the URL for the RSS and add it as explained below.

To proactively add content and gadgets to iGoogle simply click on “add stuff” in the upper right corner of iGoogle. This will take you to a keyword search for feeds and gadgets. You can find gadgets to allow you to insert all of your Google applications, like Gmail, Google calendar, Google Notebook, and Google Bookmarks. Create a tab called “Google Apps” and you will now have a portal to all your Google interactions on one page. These gadgets can be expanded within iGoogle so that you can actually use the application without having to go to the application itself. You can now get access to everything Google from one page instead of moving in and out of the applications.

To expand a gadget, you can click on the box in the upper right corner of the gadget to maximize it, or click on the gadget name in the list under the subject heading in the left navigation panel. There are gadgets to let you interact with other online applications as well, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more. Keep in mind that the third party applications offered through the “add stuff” page may pose privacy or security concerns. So you may want to do a little research before adding. Note the developer, the number of users, and the rankings in determining what is well-accepted.

Another proactive way to add “stuff” to iGoogle is to actively search for and add content. For instance, you might create a tab for patent law. To populate that tab you could do a search for “patent law” in Google Blog search. On the results page you see the option to “subscribe” in the left hand column. Click on “RSS” then “add to your personalized Google homepage”. This will add a search feed for the phrase “patent law” to your iGoogle patent law tab.

Within the tab, the patent law search feed will appear in a box. You can customize this box to show the nine most recent search results, or as few as one by clicking on the box with the arrow in the upper right corner and choosing “edit settings”. This will show the search results in reverse chronological order with the newest result appearing at the top, oldest at the bottom. As new results come in, the oldest will automatically be deleted. The same holds true for all gadgets based on RSS feeds in iGoogle, whether a search feed, a news site, or a blog. Unlike a true RSS feed reader you cannot manage feeds with iGoogle or archive posts. That’s why we call this “disposable news.” There are many ways to save these items for later reference, but that’s outside of today’s lesson.

Google Alerts is a nice free service that sends you an e-mail notification when a search term you have submitted (like your name or your biggest client’s name) appears in one of many monitored news services. If you have Google Alerts set up, you can now choose to have the results sent to iGoogle, rather than via email. Look for the ability to create search feeds in other Google content search like Google Video, News, Groups etc.

Great Feed for you to try

Here’s a great feed for you to put into your iGoogle page: the PMA Pipe. The PMA Pipe combines the posts from several blogs from practice management advisors in state bars and law societies across North America. Between everyone’s efforts, this feed is updated several times a week and often daily. We think that you will enjoy this diverse set of opinions about practice management and law office technology on your iGoogle page. This is the PMA column so you cannot expect us not to mention our great PMA Pipe, can you? We also think getting a little bit of practice management advice daily is a good way for busy lawyers to learn.

Conclusion

The above description really only covers the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to iGoogle. Google itself has plans to continue to expand and enhance functionality, including plans to integrate Google Chat in the near future. While some of the functionality is not necessarily intuitive, it is generally easy to use.

Once you have mastered the basics of iGoogle, you may want to explore adding more gadgets that let you further customize your information gathering. Tools like Google Custom Search allow you to create a searchable directory of specific websites. Keep an eye out for new gadgets by perusing “add stuff” occasionally. The final step is to either make iGoogle your browser homepage or remember to visit it daily to keep up with all that is meaningful or new to you.
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About the Authors

Catherine Sanders Reach has provided practice technology assistance for lawyers for seven years with the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center and currently serves as its Director.  Ms. Reach has a masters degree in library and information science from the University of Alabama. She has written articles for local and national legal publications, co-authors a blog called Site-tation, and has given presentations on the use of technology in law  practice across the country. She served on the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board for 2008 and on the editorial advisory board for Law Technology News and Law.com’s LegalTech.

Jim Calloway is the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He publishes the blog Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips and was the co-author of the book Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour (2nd ed.) (2002 ABA.) He was chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2005. He is a member of the Council of the ABA's Law Practice Management Section and chair of its Practice Management Advisors Committee. He is co-chair of the 2007 GP/SOLO National Solo and Small Firm Conference. He has been named a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He writes Law Practice Tips column for the Oklahoma Bar Journal. The archives of that column are available online here.

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