Developers Log

Create Your Own Theme!

Today AwesomeStart released a new feature that allows users to create their own startpage theme. The site previously let users customize their own startpage based on over four hundred themes in their gallery. Now users can create their own theme.

Create a Startpage
Create a Startpage

The new theme creator is now up at and is ridiculously easy to use. You enter the URL of an image, select a few colors, and name the theme.

The theme is saved on your computer via cookies, but you can then go the extra mile and publish it to the site. All you have to do is enter the URL you’d like and click the publish button.


Anyone can use a published theme by going to the chosen URL and setting it as their homepage. These pages can easily be shared using the “Share” link in the upper right hand corner of each page.

AwesomeStart has also integrated the new public themes into the main site search and gallery. After a brief delay, the theme will show up in the public gallery. The gallery allows users to view submissions by tags to make browsing even easier.

Mystery Feature No Longer a Mystery?

It’s fun to read the posts on our facebook page. For months now people have been speculating on the new mystery feature. We’ve finally got an announcement ready – you won’t have to speculate much longer.

The new feature will go live this Wednesday, October 14th, 2009.

Beta testing has ended, and we’re now cleaning the databases for launch. We’ve already said too much! See you Wednesday!

New Share Feature

There is a brand new share feature in the upper right hand corner of every startpage. We started developing this feature as a part of our big feature update (which is planned to go up sometime in October). We decided to put up the sharing aspect early so everyone could start using it.

AwesomeStart Share Feature
AwesomeStart Share Feature

It’s pretty simple – so you click “Share” in the upper right hand corner of the page and pick which site you’d like to share on. The site will open in a new window with all the information filled in. There’s also a text field with some code incase you’re just looking to show off your startpage via HTML.

We’ve coded the share popup so it will work on both javascript and non-javascript browsers. has also received an update to make use of the new feature. If you have a startpage set up, the promote page will display these sharing options by default. If not, you’ll see the standard banner codes.

By using our own code rather than a third party plug-in like Addthis, the share feature will load faster and can expand to include other functionality in the future.

Click the “Share” link on your startpage and give it a try!


It’s hard working on something most people will never see. Here’s a perfect example – this week we’ve been working really hard to recode the site. Everything used to be set up in HTML 4.01 Transitional. We decided to use XHTML for the new features we’re working on, so we finally made the move to switch everything from HTML to XHTML.

Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but we also took the opportunity to reprogram all the tables. Over four years ago, when the site was still being built, CSS was making its way into the mainstream. Programmers were starting to throw out old bulky tables in exchange for clean new div containers. While AwesomeStart has always used CSS, figuring out how to program everything using divs was not a project our programming lead wanted to undertake. After all, getting this monster off the ground was already going to be a pretty major challenge.

The new code we’re using has a lot of advantages. Divs create a lot less code, which makes it a lot easier to understand what you’re looking at when you come back to the code later down the line. The previous clutter is part of the reason new features have always taken so long.

We’ve also programmed the sever side to pull everything from one source. This means a hand full of files essentially controls the entire main site layout. Think of it like having a template that we can edit. As we add new feature, we only have to write code for one page.

We know, we know – boring code stuff! Don’t worry, the next post will be about something exciting!

Clean URLs and .htaccess

As we prepare to roll out the new feature (see Mysterious New Feature?!) we’re beginning to implement a few site-wide changes. The first to go up is the addition of new “clean URL” functionality.

Clean URLs, also known as simple URLs, are exactly what they sound like – short, easy to say, easy to remember web addresses. Some complex sites need to use extremely long URLs in order to pass information between pages. Next time you’re browsing Amazon for instance, check out your address bar. It’s a mess. As AwesomeStart approaches three thousand sub-pages and dozens of new features, our URLs have started to look chaotic too.

For nearly a decade, people have side-stepping the problem by using services like TinyURL to share URLs. We’re not big fans of URL shorteners…mainly because they’re susceptible to link rot. If one of the sites that hosted all these URLs went down, think of how many broken links it would create! Shortened URLs also disguise the site they’re linking to. It’s great to get quick links on Twitter, but without seeing the actual domain of the site you don’t really know what you’re getting into.

Our answer is this: keep the URLs simple. Each theme has it’s own short forwardslash URL. You’ll find all our main pages where you’d expect them to be. Now thanks to some fancy server side mod_rewrite code, pages that once had long cranky urls are now short and sweet as well. No www and no variable filled addresses.

A clean URL vs the old type.
A clean URL vs the old type.

The idea is that you can look at a URL and know exactly what you’re getting into. While we implemented this technology all over the site, just look at the new gallery for a perfect example. What address would you go to if you just wanted music themes? What if you want page three of the movie themes? If you sent someone that URL, they would know exactly what they’re about to see.

On the programming end, it also makes it less obvious what server side technology you’re using. No extensions or variable names means you’re less vulnerable to attack (or even simple URL input error).

We also use some .htaccess forwarding to redirect people who main have guessed the wrong URL. Our developers log is now at, but anyone accidentally going to /developerslog will be instantly forwarded to the correct address. Our end goal is that no one ever winds up at a 404 page.

The other easy way to tell you’re in the developer’s log is if you’re reading a seven paragraph essay on Clean URL programming. Sorry about that.

AwesomeStart’s 4th Birthday

We love birthdays around here. They’re international in celebration, universally recognized, and generally great excuses to eat cake. We’re also big fans of looking back and seeing how far things have grown. As of today, AwesomeStart has been online a grand total of four years. That’s like twenty-one in internet years, right?

Photo taken by Jessica N Diamond
Photo taken by Jessica N Diamond

This is usually the time of the year we gather ’round to reflect on the still surprising popularity and global reach of the site. This year is a bit different though…everyone’s busy at work on the as-of-yet unannounced “mysterious feature”. Seriously, what the hell is it?

Well, whatever it is, we’re here to report it’s in private beta! What does that mean? It means it’s pretty much done but you still can’t see it. We’re sorry! All we’re waiting on now is our self-selected team of startpage fanatics to get done testing it.

It’s not as good as “here you go!” but it’s certainly better than “coming soon!”

As we say every birthday, AwesomeStart continue to offer everything for free. Yes, even the new mysterious what-not will be free. The best birthday present we could ask for is a mention on your blog, facebook, twitter, etc. Even if it’s as simple as posting what page you use, help us out and tell people about!

Mysterious New Feature!?

Dev 2009-08-16

We’ve been busy at work on a brand new “feature.” It’s not so much a new feature like the previous ones we’ve brought you. Think bigger. We’re not ready to say just what it is yet, but it should permanently fix your thirst for brand new startpages. This has been the top requested idea for over a year. We’re hard at work on the final phase, so this brand new what-is-it should be going up really soon.

Design Policy Update

We recently updated our design policy. Our new policy gives designers full control over their work. They have the freedom to reuse part (or all) of their startpage design in other works and on other websites.

Our old policy stated that “No portion of [a] design may be reused on any other site or publication without written permission from”. This was originally meant to be a blanket statement that saved us the trouble of hammering out more specific details regarding usage. We had always intended to change it, but at the time our lazy design editor thought it would make due.

After several years of accepting submissions, we’ve relaxed our enforcement of that policy to the point where it was really meaningless. When faced with the decision of enforcement, it always made more sense to side with the artist. The designer made the themes, they should get to decide if they want to use that material anywhere else.

Now that most of our search code update is done, we’re back to uploading new themes. We thought this would be the perfect time to revise the submission policy to include stronger artists rights. Under the new policy we keep doing what we’ve always done, but the designers retain the rights to continue using their own work.

We think everyone will be pleased with the changes. We encourage you to try submitting a design! You can read the new policy and guidelines over here.

Upgraded Search Function

We’ve taken a lot of user suggestions into consideration over the past few months. Our users are full of ideas; the hard part seems to be figuring out which to listen to first. The general rule of thumb is to let the numbers do the work. When we get a few hundred emails telling us they want an upgraded search function, for instance, we get right now that.

The search technology we use has been upgraded to our partner’s Custom Search Beta. This means a faster, more accurate search. The results page you get from searches on this site will also look much more like a familiar search giant’s results page.

The one downside to this is that domain searching will no longer work. This includes the domain options presented next to the “Search” button on startpages as well as the Amazon option in the drop down box. We’re currently looking at ways to fix that feature. We’ll be bringing it back as soon as possible.

Keep those suggestions coming!

New Features Now Showing Up

You may have noticed some small changes to your startpage in the last week or so. We’ve begun implementation of two highly requested features. Users will now be able to search Images, News, Maps and more directly from the search box on their page. If you use additional technologies (which can be changed in preferences), you can now click on a link to change what you want to search. For instance, if you’d like to search for an image, click “Image” and type in your query. Then search, just like you would have for the web. No more leaving the page first!

In addition to this feature, we’re also including a new drop down menu to give you more search options. It can be accessed by mousing over the small arrow to the right of the Email link. You can now search Amazon and Wikipedia in the same manner described above. Just select one from the drop down menu, type in your search, and away you go. Popular search engine technologies for Video, Books, Scholar, Finance, Shopping, and Blogs are all also available.

These new features are now available on all Movies, TV, Videogame, and “Other” startpages. At the time of writing, they’ve also been added to our twenty most popular movie startpages. Adding the new features requires a complete overhaul of each startpage. We’re recoding each page from HTML to XHTML using a new standard template. While this will make new updates easier to add in the future, it’s certainly a lengthy process. More pages are being updated with these features every day, and we hope to have the rest of the music startpages finished in the coming weeks.

Go try out the new features. Let us know what you think!