Why I Love NetVibes

There is a phrase which is bandied about in certain circles. "Internet 2.0" they say and nod wisely. Or "Web 2.0" with similar smug inclines and declines of the cranium. Some people fear that 2.0 simply means more impossibly complicated, glossy, flashy and pointless websites which let you indulge yourself in some expensively produced hype for the latest film, band, perfume or fast food chain. Others see 2.0 as simply the evolution of sites which people take part in – hence the rise of user-driven sites such as Facebook and Myspace. Whichever it ultimately turns out to be – my money is on both – the technology to make internet sites more interactive is getting better every day. One such example of Web 2.0 is NetVibes. An apparently simple use of some rather clever technology.

What is NetVibes? NetVibes is a home page (which doesn’t have to be a home page but it is a logical thing to do to set it as such) which gives you a whole bunch of whatever it is you want. RSS readers never really caught on because it required an application whose job it was to read the sites you visit and give you one line summaries of the main points. It was quicker – unless you had either a whole lot of sites or a very short attention span – just to go to the sites yourself. NetVibes uses RSS the way it should be used.

So far so technical. But what does it look like? What does it do which is so labour saving or cool? Or both. Preferably both.

When I start Firefox (I would’ve said "browser" but it is 2007 and unless you’re a Safari user I trust you have moved over) I get this page (but without the black boxes).

Without even scrolling I can check whether there is a new podcast available, see the BBC News headlines, check my To Do list, see how badly my shares are doing, have a look at the weather forecast, look at the football news, be alerted to any bargains at Hot Deals and check whether Digital Spy have started reporting actual news or just their usual celebrity pap.

Scrolling further down we have more headlines, a handy note facility for jotting things (mainly notes), previews of your various inboxes and any and all the web links you want.

But there’s more~! You can include an RSS feed of your favourite blogs if they are available. No more bobbing along to MySpace or Live Journal just on the off chance. There are plenty of plugins available – one of which is the comic strips one you can see (I didn’t choose all those strips – I’ve no idea what most of them are but Dilbert is first and Dilbert is always good – see below). Another plugin is the TV guide – fully customisable with any UK channel.

So you’ve got your headlines – what happens if one takes your fancy? Click it, my boy, it’s as easy as pi.

Clicking on the earlier Guardian Football story about Steven "Stevie" Gerard opens the story in a new frame. I can read the story and go back to my home page with one click.

Or if I don’t fancy actually reading the whole story, hovering over the link gives a quick précis.

You can even hover over one of the comic strip links to get that day’s comic instantly.

It is easy to add content, remove things you don’t really want and move things about. Click "Add Content" to open this self-explanatory sidebar. All you need to add an RSS feed is the web address (which you can generally find really easily at sites such as the BBC).

But the absolute best thing about NetVibes is that it is truly portable. You create an account when you first visit www.netvibes.com and from there on all your customisations are saved without you having to do anything else. If you’re on another computer you simply visit the website, log in and you get your NetVibes home page. Ideal for checking everything in an idle moment at work.

NetVibes is one of those coming things. Already there are "universes" being set up by big name companies. A "universe" is a set of feeds which someone – for example Time magazine – creates and anyone can visit. It’s like Myspace but with actual content and no eye-bleedingly bad page layouts. And no music which just starts without you wanting to and scares you into thinking you’re being burgled by an indie band.

NetVibes doesn’t do anything radically new but it puts a new spin on an old idea and uses the latest internet tools to produce something genuinely useful. There are plenty of features I’ve not even tried yet and new things are being created all the time. Hopefully the NetVibes community will grow as the Firefox community has grown and a whole raft of cool new stuff will be coming along soon. It’s already fantastically useful at home and at work – you only have to remember an address and your login and everything else is done for you.