Technology

Try Netvibes to custom-design your Net, your way

There's a lot of out there on the Web that's more interesting than useful. But every so often, something comes along that is so interesting and useful, I have to say so.

That's how I feel about Netvibes, a personal home page.

But don't think of the personal home pages from the early days of the Web, when many cobbled together their own very personal -- and, ultimately, very useless -- startpage, which appeared on screen whenever the user launched their favorite Web browser. It usually included a paragraph or two of personal information and family.

Netvibes (www.netvibes.com) is a bundle of different functions rolled into a single home or startpage.

At its heart is the ability to use a widely available but seldom used Web feature, called RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

Essentially, the RSS feeds, as they're called, alert interested parties (those who have asked) whenever a page or topic in which they are interested has changed or been updated.

RSS newsreaders, stand-alone software programs that keep track of a user's RSS requests, have been around for some time. Many of the readers look like e-mail clients which have lists of the different new feeds. But keeping track of the individual feeds is sometimes difficult, and it's hard to know, at a glance, where the new feeds came from.

This is where Netvibes enters the picture. It makes it easy to create a customized page that includes only news you want to read. And news is used in the broadest sense here, and can include nearly anything on the Web, including eBay updates, new YouTube videos, personal ads from your local Craig's List, updates from a select number of Web-based e-mail programs or your local weather forecast. Think of this as a series of Post-It notes attached to your computer screen, only the "notes" are automatically updated.

To find out more about Netvibes, Netizen talks with Vincent Chang, a spokesman for Netvibes.

Q: Why the personal startpage?

A: Our founder, Tariq Krim, was involved in a lot of the early dot-com era, but he asked himself why he wasn't doing what he wanted to do? So he created a type of first-generation MP3 blog, a kind of Engadget (www.engadget.com, a popular consumer electronics blog) for MP3s. While he was doing that, he realized he had to keep track of so many (RSS) feeds, thousands of feeds from different blogs. So, to do that, he created a newsreader that looked like a little newspaper. Most newsreaders push all the RSS feed updates into a single window, so it is difficult to know where the feeds are coming from. He built this little newsreader for himself and his employees. And, of course, someone tagged it (linked it) to del.icio.us (pronounced Delicious, a collection of favorite links from Web sites and blogs) and literally overnight, 1,500 people were using it. It never really had a public launch. It was really just a private site. Today, there are about 10 million users in 150 countries.

Q: Are the RSS feeds limited to media companies that have a formal relationship with Netvibes?

A: No. Any site that has an RSS feed can be added. But Netvibes has no local or cultural content. Users have the power to add their own. Our users have translated our site into 80 languages and we're helping with more translations. We like to consider ourselves a multinational company, not a global company. With the basic Netvibes software, we've made it easy for users to add their own content. Users don't really have to know anything about RSS feeds. The Netvibes page even plays podcasts, so you don't have to load the podcast onto iTunes to listen to it. It's really kind of interesting, because you can take the content created by these media companies and use it the way you want to.

Q: Will Netvibes work with Web browsers other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer?

A: Yes. Netvibes works with every browser, including Firefox, Opera and Safari (a Mac browser). We're basically one of the only ones compatible with Safari. We're also working on something called Netvibes To Go, which allows you to use your Netvibes page on your mobile phone. We also have made it so you can completely customize your page, even taking off the Netvibes logo if you want. With Google, you can change everything except the Google logo and the Google search bar. With Yahoo!, you can change everything except the Yahoo! logo. Our page has no ads or logos. Your page is literally your own, which gives us a huge philosophical advantage.

Q: Netvibes recently?announced a new type of public page, called a Netvibes Universe. What's this about?

A: Up to this point, we haven't allowed anyone to publish their site, that is to make it accessible by the general public. But we announced a series of public Netvibes sites, called Universes. Celebrities (Mandy Moore and 50 Cent), and media outlets (CBS News, Sports Illustrated) have joined on as our pilot partners. So, if you go to www.netvibes.com/mandymoore you can see all her videos and all her latest photos.

Q: Will average users be able to publish their own public Universe sites?

A: This will happen soon. By the end of June, or probably sooner. This is much better than a blog, because you can have updated information on the site and you don't really need to do anything. You just launch it and there is new information on your page.

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THE NET, YOUR WAY

www.netvibes.com: Think of it as a bunch of Post-It notes stuck to your computer screen. Except the notes keep getting updated and you don't have to do a thing. This free service may really chance the way you surf the Net. Rather than moving from page to page, you can see lots of different items on a single page. Here are some hints: Use the featured feeds (about 8,400 of them), if you're not familiar with RSS feeds. As you learn more, you can add feeds of the pages you want. Consider keeping the page limited to about a dozen or so feeds, and have the individual boxes (called modules) in their collapsed mode, so your page loads more quickly. Consider having several tabs on your site, so you can group your work, home and personal feeds together. Also, under the settings/general settings, click the option that loads the feeds only on the page being viewed. This will also improve page performance.

www.tizag.com/ajaxTutorial/: Netvibes is all based on a type of resource-savvy Web programming, which allows for the flexibility and ease of use. Even if you never write programming for the Web, it's not a bad idea to know a little more about Ajax, which has nothing to do with the common household cleaner or the Amsterdam football (soccer) team of the same name.

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