Personalized, Real-Time Web Content

A new version of Netvibes focuses on real-time data from around the Internet.

Choosing a home page is still an important step for many Web users. Nowadays, many home pages are custom-built, featuring headlines syndicated from favorite blogs and news sites and widgets that display the latest weather and sports scores, social network updates, and more.

Wasabi mosaic: A feed can be consolidated into a collection of images, as seen here.

Netvibes, a startup based Paris, France, that lets users build custom home pages, is testing a service that pulls together real-time data from Twitter and Facebook, as well as frequently updated blogs and news sites, on personalized home pages. Called Wasabi, the new service is built on technology that helps keep up with an avalanche of real-time information from across the Web, says Freddy Mini, the company’s CEO.

Competing services, including iGoogle, Bloglines, and Pageflakes, take slightly different approaches to building personalized home pages, or “dashboards.” Netvibes’s decision to focus on real-time Web content reflects the growing importance of sites like Twitter and Facebook. Currently, Netvibes has 3.5 million active users. Wasabi is open to 20,000 beta users, according to Mini, and about the same number are on the waiting list.

Once you activate Wasabi, you can choose a “smart reader” view in the upper-right corner of the screen. This view consolidates previously separate RSS boxes into a stream of intermingled headlines. Twitter and Facebook updates and other information, such as the current weather and e-mails, are shown in the same feed. You can highlight particular feeds via a navigator on the left of the screen. And it’s possible to view a “mosaic” of any images associated with the items in a feed.

Wasabi can keep track of the most frequently updated services and update a user’s dashboard almost instantly, says Mini. Netvibes’s engineers built back-end software that crawls through feeds, analyzing the frequency of posts. “Our crawlers come back to you and drop content faster if you update quickly,” says Mini.

While Wasabi is an improvement over the standard Netvibes offering, it’s only going to appeal to a certain type of Web user, says Robert Scoble, a social media expert at the hosting company Rackspace and a prominent blogger and Twitter user. According to Scoble, power users generally opt for toggling between Twitter and Facebook for most of their updates, with the occasional foray to Google News.

Linear look: Wasabi offers a stream of real-time information from services such as Twitter.

Scoble adds that power users increasingly use their phones to access real-time information. Apps for the weather, the New York Times, CNN, Twitter, and Facebook serve the same purpose as widgets collected on one webpage, he says.

Netvibes offers a mobile version of Wasabi that loads more quickly than the standard one. But the company hasn’t yet offered an application that runs directly on a phone.

Mini says his company is working on software tools to help users cope with information overload. Mini also notes that Netvibes has developed a recommendation system that it uses to suggest new content. “We are, in fact, preparing to add some intelligence,” he says, although he didn’t provide a timeline.

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