This subject is worthy of perhaps a 10,000 word New Yorker article. But this will just be a relatively short post based on some thinking following a meeting with Netvibes CEO Tariq Krim in San Francisco the other day.
Google has been dubbed the “start page for the Internet.” Cynics would protest that it’s become a kind of toll-booth. But that exalted position most recently enabled Google to turn in a stunning $3.2 billion quarter.
The Internet (and search in particular) is more dynamic and arguably more competitive than any other industry. Even so, it is very difficult to predict (or perhaps even imagine) an online future that looks very different than what exists today or one that doesn’t rely heavily on search. Of course, we can make certain bland statements like “wireless may be disruptive” or “the Internet on TV will look very different” or “Metaverses could change everything.”
But a “post-search” future may indeed be coming. I don’t mean to imply that search will ever be obsolete; it won’t. What I mean to suggest is that reliance on search and time spent with search may diminish as RSS feeds and other structured content delivery mechanisms are adopted by users.
Sites like MySpace, which could be seen as a kind of successor to AOL, have pointed to an Internet that isn’t as Google-centric, which is one reason Google did the MySpace search/paid search deal.
But back to Netvibes.
Netvibes is quickly described as a personal homepage, Internet dashboard or even a new kind of portal. You may not have heard of the site but in about 15 months it already has more than nine million users in the U.S. and Europe. Former journalist turned Internet entrepreneur Tariq Krim, who runs Netvibes from Paris (must be nice), said that in creating Netvibes he was simply trying to solve his own problem: managing the Internet’s information overload.
It has built this traction with early adopters based almost exclusively on mentions in high profile blogs. But now the mainstream media is starting to cover the site. The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg (subscription required) recently wrote about Netvibes (and competitor Pageflakes) in the context of online personalization.
Everything old is new again and these sites, in a sense, are nothing new. My Yahoo, for example, has been around since the mid-90s. There is also Google’s Personalized Homepage, Live.com, MyMSN, MyTimes (NY Times) and Yahoo Desktop widgets, among others. On that last point, Netvibes is definitely part of an emerging “widget ecosystem.”
Regardless of whatever category or label you want to affix, the idea here is that I have all the content and tools of interest in front of me, including e-mail, IM and search. (Netvibes supports Google, Yahoo, Live Search and Snap). MyYahoo, which is badly in need of an upgrade – one is reportedly coming soon – may have already missed its opportunity to dominate the space.
As mentioned, Netvibes’ adoption so far has been by “power users” and arguably the site is too complex for “the masses.” Krim understands this and stressed simplification — and more viral elements — in future editions of Netvibes.
One of the arguments in favor of vertical search vs. general search is that it offers better and deeper data and richer experiences. There’s also the parallel complaint that search fails to offer enough structure to satisfy basic user needs in many cases.
In one way of looking at it, Netvibes brings the structured content of vertical search together with the breadth of general search in a “push” metaphor. I don’t mean to be pushing Netvibes (so to speak), it’s just what got me thinking.
If Netvibes, or MyYahoo or another competitor, can fulfill the promise — and this is absolutely critical — of an easy-to-use Internet dashboard with all my content (i.e., news, blogs, photos, email, IM, community, shopping, etc.) in a single place we may see broad user adoption of these sites. And I predict we will.
A great many searches today are navigational: using search simply to get to a known/desired site. Netvibes and its competitors’ more structured approach to delivery of this same content (and viral delivery of “serendipitous” content) would potentially come, to a degree as yet unknown, at the expense of search.
If more content is “pushed” to me including, for example, alerts (e.g., classifieds, travel deals), I have fewer reasons to “go out” looking for it. And that means fewer reasons to go to Google.