My favorite start page, Netvibes, is getting an interesting upgrade. The new "Ginger" version gets social features for sharing your start-page widgets and layouts, as well as a status feed reminiscent of Facebook and Twitter. Netvibes Ginger also makes it easier to add content to your pages.
The site will be updated with the Ginger release in mid-February, but we have some invitations to the private beta now...read down to the end for details.
With Ginger, all Netvibes users get a "universe" page--a public, shared collection of widgets and tabs that anyone can access. Here's a quick example. It's easy enough to send items from your private pages to your universe, and if you want to point people your favorite widgets or blogs, it's a simple solution. If you happen to have an online presence on several different service (for example, a professional blog, a personal blog, a social network, Delicious, Twitter, etc.), this is a way to put them all together so your friends can see what you are up to.
With Netvibes new "activity" window, you can now see what your friends are up to...on Netvibes, anyway. When you're in a widget on Netvibes, you can flag an item to save it to either your private or your public feed, and in the activities window you can see either your own private starred items, your public ones, or those of the people you are following. (Unfortunately, you can't see all these activities together in one window, and you can't flag an item from its detail page, only from its headline in the widget.)
The concept of following other users on Netvibes is a conceptual stretch. While it's easy enough to find other Netvibes users and add them to your Netvibes circle, one has to wonder if this bare-bones social network can possibly get traction. Netvibes Tariq Krim told me, "We wouldn't do it if we didn't add value." So, he said, "We will announce plug-ins so it can automatically sync with Twitter, Facebook, and so on."
Maybe that will help. Krim is trying to make Netvibes into a hub for social information. If it works without requiring that your friends are also Netvibes users, it could be useful. But if it's just the Netvibes social network, I predict rather limited uptake.
Evolutionary changes in Netvibes include a better way to add content to your pages. There's a very attractive catalog of widgets you can add, and you can preview each one before you drop it on a page.
As a current Netvibes user, I like the new interface but I can't say that any of the new features bowl me over. The new methods for adding content are nice, though, and will make the service more approachable for newbies.
But the social bits are puzzling. I've never thought of Netvibes as a social platform. I don't really want it to be social. I get enough social in all the other sites I use.
I could be wrong, though. If you sign up for the Netvibes Ginger private beta, add me to your network (search for "rafe"), and we can see if we like it. Update: Webware users burned through our first allotment of invitations to the Ginger private beta very quickly, but there are 100 more invitations available here--use the new code WWMORE100.