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Are Personalized Home Pages a Good Business?

I am an avid user of my personalized Google homepage. I also really like Netvibes quite a bit — for some reason Pageflakes doesn’t really do it for me. Every time I fire up my personal homepage product of choice I wonder two things.

1. Haven’t we seen this movie before?
I remember my first customized MyYahoo! page. It let me arrange and display content of interest to me in a semi-customized way. The biggest drawback was that Yahoo! was the arbiter of what content was available for me to add to that page. Fast forward 10 years (or so). The biggest change is that content owners seem interested in syndicating some subset of their content for offsite consumption (gadgets, widgets, RSS feeds, set) and there are plenty of good, easy platforms to do this. Writing a gadget, widget, module, etc does not take a lot of engineering work for most of the popular formats.

Just like in the old portal days, there is some value in making it easy for others to collect the content that they care most about and view it in one place. Getting traction and visitors will not be a problem provided that the interface is clean and simple and allows people to do the kinds of things they want to do (add new content from the sources they want, rearrange things on the page, etc).

2. Is there any way to make a go of this if you aren’t an Internet mega-destination?
Well, I am not entirely sure. But I do think that there are some things worth exploring. For a popular site like Netvibes with over 5 million users, getting traffic is not the issue. The issue is how to convert that traffic

a. Advertising – It wouldn’t be too hard to look at a user’s modules and then display ads based on the topic areas that user appears to find interesting. For example, if I have a bunch of football content on my personalized homepage, showing me ads about football seems reasonable. And then there are good old display ads. I would hate to see Netvibes or anyone else destroy the pristine look of their pages by jamming too many ads in obtrusive locations.

b. Referral programs/modules – Netvibes already has some shopping modules on their site. Conceivably they could limit or prohibit others from launching similar modules and be the only game in town for Amazon, Kelkoo, etc referrals. Ditto on search referrals — they could basically try to corner the internal market on Google/Yahoo search traffic referrals and make some money that way. Even more interesting, they could do something more along the lines of lead gen and get paid or compensated when new accounts are created.

Assuming that Netvibes has reasonably low overhead and knowing that they have some coin in the bank, they should have some time to figure it out.