Netvibes, maker of the single-page aggregator (or metagator) that I favor, is making an aggressive announcement at the Web 2.0 Expo. The company is launching the "Netvibes Universes" project. It's a simple technical improvement to the current service, but it's a bit of a business coup.
Netvibes Universes allows content creators to create custom Netvibes aggregation pages. What's technically new is that content owners can now customize the look and feel of their pages, and publish them as standalone Web pages with semifriendly URLs (for example: www.netvibes.com/icecube). Fully friendly URLS--in other words, custom Web addresses--will come later.
The business coup is that Netvibes signed up over 100 publishing partners, including recording artists like Mandy Moore and 50 Cent, and major media like Time, USA Today, and The Washington Post. All their Netvibes pages will be available on Monday.
It's hard to say if the Universes pages be better than their publishers' own home pages. They are different. A custom-designed home page can really stand out, but with more people finding content through "side doors" like blog posts, Digg, and aggregators like Netvibes, the front pages of content sites matter less than they used to. It makes sense, then, for some publishers to use off-the-shelf services like Universes to publish front pages that are almost as attractive, and far easier to modify, than all the individually coded front pages that sites now support.
Netvibes told me that it will make the Universes functionality available to all its users by June. At the moment, it's possible for ordinary Netvibes users to share a Netvibes page only with other users, and you can't customize the page nor specify a standalone URL for it.
In related news, Netvibes competitor Pageflakes is releasing its Flurry feature at Web 2.0 Expo. By interviewing you about your location and your interests, this update makes it even easier to get started with the service. I interviewed Pageflakes CEO Dan Cohen in February. It's a great product--I'd use it if I wasn't already hooked on Netvibes.
Both Netvibes and Pageflakes make better start pages than the majors (Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google), although in the long run that won't matter because the big guys can easily grab the lion's share of traffic. For that reason I think Netvibes' direction is very smart. Instead of focusing on making a better product for individuals, the company is now embarking on a business-to-business strategy, too, and hopes to reach new users not only directly, but through its business clients.
Read on for more preview screenshots from Netvibes.