Web users feel the 'vibes'
New customizable start page, Netvibes, takes on Internet Web portal giants like My Yahoo.
By Erick Schonfeld and Jeanette Borzo, Business 2.0

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) -- The Disruptor: Netvibes

The Innovation: Highly customizable Web start pages

Trampled underfoot: Krim aims to stomp established portals with his easily customizable Web start pages.

The Disrupted: My Yahoo and other leading personalized portal pages

Tariq Krim is a natural-born disruptor. He was 12 when he hacked into France's Minitel state-run computer system in 1984 to build a messaging app, and he's founded two successful startups. His latest game-changing idea: Netvibes, a customizable start page now attracting millions of users from more than 100 countries -- and rattling portal powers like My Yahoo (Charts), MSN, and Google (Charts). "The Web has become increasingly bureaucratic," Krim says. "We are trying to break all the traditional rules."

Netvibes currently doesn't accept typical Web ads -- the kind Krim denounces as "Advertising 1.0, in your face." Prizing customer loyalty as a means to growth, Netvibes is instead working with partners that offer sponsored services. A mobile-phone company, for example, can offer free SMS in order to get a branding buzz.

Krim also is taking full advantage of the move to user-generated content, and devoted Netvibers are at the heart of the site's growth and development. Before Krim could even write himself a note to follow up on an idea he had for a Netvibes module to track World Cup results this summer, for example, a French user created and posted it. Users in other countries rushed to translate the module into seven languages. "It was done by the users, without even checking with us," Krim says. Netvibers are also to thank for the fact that the site is available not only in English and French, but also in Chinese, Croatian, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The real threat to established portals, however, comes from the impressive speed and unprecedented drag-and-drop simplicity of the site's customization tools. With Netvibes, users can rapidly change the look of their start page, select content, add RSS feeds, and custom-build features from other Netvibes users. Any e-mail feed can be put on Netvibes; My Yahoo users can choose only Yahoo's e-mail option. "Netvibes makes it brain-dead easy," says Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research who has been using Netvibes.com as her start page for months.

Dethroning My Yahoo won't be easy. It has more than 60 million users. But Krim thinks Netvibes's ease of use will make it disruptive. "The simpler it is, the more people will use it," he says. "If it's easy and fun, you'll use it again."

And Krim is on a roll: Netvibes launched in September 2005 and lately has been adding a new user about every three seconds. He expects to have more than 15 million users by year's end, and he just got $15 million in fresh funding. Krim won't disclose specifics but says he has a steady stream of revenue from sponsorships and partnered services, of which he's currently developing 100.


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