iGoogle Refugees Flood Netvibes - InformationWeek

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7/6/2012
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iGoogle Refugees Flood Netvibes

Personal webpages and advertising just don't mix.

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On Tuesday, Google announced that it plans to close iGoogle, its five-year-old personalizable home page, a move that has elicited hundreds of complaints from iGoogle users.

Asked whether Google might reconsider its decision to discontinue iGoogle, a spokeswoman on Friday simply pointed to the company's statements in its Tuesday blog post.

The message on Thursday from iGoogle product manager Conrad Lo was much the same. In a post to the iGoogle support forum, he attempted to mollify iGoogle users and encouraged them to seek out alternative services.

"While the transition may be difficult, this is part of our broader goal to focus our efforts and build a better Google," he wrote.

[ Want more info? Read Google Plans End Of iGoogle. ]

Netvibes, a personal Web dashboard provider founded in 2005, is one of the most frequently suggested iGoogle alternatives and the company says it has seen a surge of users creating new accounts.

User signups have jumped by a factor of eight since Google revealed that it plans to shut iGoogle in November 2013, said CEO Freddy Mini in a phone interview.

In February, Netvibes was acquired by Dassault Systems, thanks largely to the company's shift in 2008 to focus on business customers.

Netvibes has moved beyond Web page personalization to provide online dashboards and business intelligence to companies. It still allows consumers to create personalized Web pages but it augments its free service with business-centric paid options, such as brand monitoring, analytics, and enterprise portal services. The company is also a platform for Web apps.

"What we discovered in 2008, which is why we made a switch in direction, is that personalized pages will never be a great a business model," said Mini.

The reason, says Mini, is that advertising doesn't work on personalized pages. That may explain Google's lack of enthusiasm for maintaining iGoogle, once touted as a forum for a new kind of advertising. Personalized Web pages and advertising just don't mix very well.

"Can you sell advertisements in an intimate, private environment?" asks Mini. "Would you have a billboard in your living room? I don't think so."

And that's actually how iGoogle users think about their pages: Read a few of the complaints in the iGoogle support forum and you'll find that users of the service see their iGoogle pages as intimate spaces, individually crafted windows onto the Web. Google's decision to close iGoogle may be just business, but to iGoogle users, it's personal.

It's surprising that Google, having spent so much energy in recent years building migration tools to encourage business use of Google Apps, has created emigres because its enterprise unit couldn't find a way to utilize iGoogle. But Google's loss is Netvibes' gain.

Netvibes' strategic shift to supporting corporate clients is the reason that the company has been able to accommodate the surge in visitor traffic, according to a spokesman. And the company would like to see the traffic keep flowing: Next week, Netvibes plans to publish a blog post explaining how iGoogle refugees can transfer their dashboards.

Exporting feeds from iGoogle is already relatively easy, thanks to Google's commitment to data portability. The iGoogle settings menu, accessed from the options gear icon on the main iGoogle page, includes an import/export option at the bottom. An exported iGoogle feeds file is formatted as XML and must be converted to OPML to be imported into NetVibes.

"We will ease that process to welcome everybody to Netvibes," said Mini.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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