Netvibes is a custom home page service that lets you collect your favorite online content and access it all from any Web browser. For example, wouldn't it be more productive to log on to one Web page to read your newest e-mail in addition to the latest news from favorite wire services, magazines, and blogs, as well as see your calendar appointments and to-do lists? Why not throw in your most recent online bookmarks and photo galleries while you're at it? How about tossing in your city's weather and movie listings, as well as airfare lookups and maps for driving directions? Although the product's not perfect, Parisian start-up company Netvibes has created a clean, personal home page that is better than others we've tested, including Windows Live.com.
We signed up for free at Netvibes.com and, within moments, received a confirmation e-mail showing our selected login and password in clear text. Netvibes would be wiser, however, to send a confirmation URL, rather than spelling out a private password. Once you log in (to be safe, change your password immediately), you're ready to add content. Within a matter of minutes, we'd dragged in more than 20 modules of news and podcasts from major publications and niche blogs, in addition to widgets for weather, Flickr photos, eBay auctions, and an animated aquarium.
Netvibes' Add Content link opens a left-hand menu of feeds and modules that you can then drag to the center of your page. The featured content list reads like a Web 2.0 menu du jour, with news sites including the Make and BoingBoing blogs, plus modules for Del.icio.us, Writely, and so on. (Unfortunately, the Writely module didn't work for us.) You can add a Gmail feed in a snap, but you'll need to set up POP mail first to display Yahoo Mail messages. You should be able to click Netvibes' Add My Feed link to insert an RSS, ATOM, or Web site address or to import an OPML file, such as a list of links from a blog.
However, our OPML list of some 80 Web sites failed to import, as did more than half of the third-party newsfeeds and modules we attempted to add. You can look up all sorts of widgets and feeds and add them in two steps (when they work) from the Netvibes Ecosystem page. Another way to add content when you're out and about online is to click a Netvibes badge when you see one, à la Web site badges for Del.icio.us or Digg This that litter the pages of many savvy content sites these days.
The Netvibes interface looks nice and fresh, without wasting white space, unlike Windows Live.com and My Yahoo. The page organizes your content into compact boxes, or modules. Select Expand All or Collapse to display either all of your content or only the header of each Netvibes module. When you click a news story from, say, the BBC, the Netvibes main panel makes way for a list of recent BBC news. Or you can just roll over headlines within a module to pop up a synopsis of the story. Another nice touch: Netvibes remembers your settings and the tab you last read, even after you log out.