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.
What if you're a political news junkie who also compulsively checks gadget blogs throughout the day? For the best Netvibes experience, you can splice your content into a seemingly endless array of tabs. Google Home, by contrast, maxes out at six tabs, while we find My Yahoo's multipage organization clunky. Only Netvibes lets you add little icons to tabs, such as a dollar sign for your politics tab, an iPod for your tech tab, or even your Web site's micrologo. When we felt fickle and decided to drag various modules to new tabs, Netvibes' Loading messages made us wonder if it was on hold or carrying out our tasks. If you're dealing with lots of content, you may need to slow down or you may be left guessing. Even when we waited, however, Netvibes loaded content more quickly than Windows Live.com did.
For more fine-tuning, check the Settings link to control interface themes and languages and to enable keyboard shortcuts--such as the letter J to jump between tabs. Netvibes is adding support for 40 languages; you can already use it in Romance languages, Russian, Chinese, Croatian, and Hindi. You can even make a tab public in the Netvibes Ecosystem for any of the many millions of other Netvibes users to see.
For help, Netvibes offers only FAQs and a list of keyboard shortcuts, as well as news about updates. It's too bad you can't reach a user forum. Netvibes doesn't provide an e-mail address for help, but a Web-based form does put you in touch with the company if you want to offer feedback. We didn't receive a reply within 24 hours of asking several questions through this form.
We tested Netvibes both before and after its latest update, code name Cinnamon. The makers of Netvibes are continuing to complete this service, so we hope that they'll fix some of the glitches and address some of the broken feeds that sometimes marred our experience. Nevertheless, although we couldn't add all the content we desired, we still created an elegant personal home page loaded with helpful tools and our preferred news. And although we wish for a more secure setup process, we found ourselves using Netvibes more than the home pages offered by Yahoo, Google, or Windows Live.