Start.io delivers a customizable start page engine


Start.io is an engine for creating customized start pages, with the added bonus of letting you know when your favorite sites have updated. It comes equipped with a drag-and-droppable interface for adjusting and grouping your links, and several nice-looking preloaded layouts to choose from. On top of that, the CSS is entirely customizable, so you can modify existing layouts, or build your own from scratch.

The first thing I wondered about Start.io was why it just lets you know that one of your links has updated, instead of using RSS to show you exactly what the updates were. The answer (explained on the about page) makes a lot of sense: you don't come to your start page when you want to read a bunch of RSS feeds. You go there when you want to click through to the sites themselves, not Google Reader or your standalone RSS app. If you want an RSS reader as your start page, there are other services you can check out, but I haven't see a complete start page engine like Start.io anywhere else.

What's your start page? Do you like Start.io, or do you have a better alternative? Let us know in the comments.

Google introduces better related terms and longer snippets


We report on a lot of new software and projects from Google, so sometimes it's easy to take it for granted that search is still one of the things they do best. Google searches just got even better, too, with useful improvements to the way the search engine finds related concepts and an increase in the length of search result "snippets" for longer searches.

Longer snippets are something I've wanted for a long time. I hate it when I get really close to finding the entirety of the information I need without actually having to click through to a result, but the snippet comes up one word short. That frustration should be greatly decreased with longer snippets that attempt to show more of your search terms together. This new feature kicks in when your search contains 4 or more words.

The improvements to related terms mean that Google can now more accurately suggest other searches that relate to your search terms. The example they give is searching for principles of physics, which now suggests searches for things like quantum mechanics, special relativity and the big bang. This should make narrowing down your results and finding what you want on Google even easier.

Grotrian Pianolina - Time Waster

Download Squad is a strange place to read about German piano builders, but when their site has a time waster as good as this one, we can't ignore it. I don't know whether Grotrian makes good pianos, but I know that their Pianolina game is a great way to kill some time. It's a sort of open-ended music composition toy, where different colored blocks represent different notes that sound when they bounce off a wall or another block.

To get you started, the Pianolina has a few pre-programmed compositions by the likes of Beethoven and Satie. These quickly go awry, though, when things inevitably start bumping into one another. If you let them play long enough, you wouldn't recognize the melodies anymore. When you switch to compose mode, and start experimenting with your own composition, half the fun is in hearing it gradually break down. Pianolina may be a time waster, but at least it's a creative one.

Hulu plans to go international


Online video site Hulu has become one of the most popular video portals in the internet over the past year. It showcases high quality content from major television and film studios with fewer commercials than you'd see if you watched the same programs on TV. But Hulu has faced one major hurdle: The company doesn't have deals in place to distribute that content outside of the US, which is why international users are typically met with a message telling them that videos aren't available when they visit the site.

Hulu's been planning to go global for a while now, but it looks like the company could be a bit closer. PaidContent reports that the company has hired a new vice president to oversee international operations.

It seems likely that one of the first areas outside the US that Hulu will be available will be the UK. What I'd love to see is a reciprocal relationship, where in addition to streaming US content to British viewers, Hulu could work out a deal to distribute BBC content in the US.

PirateBay's IPREDATOR VPN service to debut on April 1

It's no April Fools' prank. On April 1st - the same day that Sweden's Draconian new intellectual property legislation (IPRED) goes into effect - the Pirate Bay will debut their new IPREDATOR VPN service.

Where IPRED aims to make it easier for copyright holders to get their hands on ISP log files to investigate suspected transgressors. With IPREDATOR, a user can give "the man" a swift kick in his digital groin and sneak away unscathed while he's doubled over in agony.

No log files are maintained, and all traffic is tunneled, making it more difficult to track activity to a specific user.

Initially, the service will be opened to a select group of 500 testers. Once the kinks have been worked out, IPREDATOR will be available world-wide for a modest 5 Euro monthly fee.

Those who are interested and want to roll the dice in hopes of getting in early can register for the beta at ipredator.se.

[via TorrentFreak]

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