The reason I rate Google so highly is that they have a knack of rolling out an application that does that one thing really well. Just look at Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and the Google Browser Sync Add-On for Firefox as examples of cool off-line & on-line applications. However, all of this feverish industry leads to a certain level of dismay.
Right now, other than slowing the pace with which they roll out new applications, Google need to work on the ones they have.
Additionally, freeze some features and think of ways of making their applications work together more seamlessly and as tightly as possible.
The reason? Over the past few months, Yahoo! have been making some interesting inroads into mashups, and look set to extend their lead even further.
There’s no reason why Google can’t match Yahoo! in this space, so if Google are indeed planning something of a catch-up, watch this space!
I use Google almost exclusively for searching on the web, and as such, I have a Google Account, which I’ve since used to create personalized, tabulated web page filled with my various RSS news feeds.
But being the endless tinkerer, I’m always keen to see what else is out there. And by looking around, I found Netvibes.
To make this review make some sense, and to give the impression that I’ve at least planned this (ahh!) I’m going to break this review into several categories, scoring the two protagonists in each category from one (being not so good) to five (being rather good indeed!)
I must make the point that one category will be most notable by its absence, and that’s one of cost. You see, both Google Personal and Netvibes are quite free.
So here goes…
Customization (User Interface, layout, options et cetera)
Let’s face it, Netvibes wins in the looks department hands down. But that’s looks, and there’s more to the user interface than looks, although it helps.
Problem is, I’m a soft touch for the look & feel thing, largely because I’m a designer, so I know what kind of thought goes into those details. So for that reason, Netvibes gets some extra points.
On the other hand, Google Personal can only be best described as minimal. To some, that’s a good thing, to others (maybe those like me,) they lose points.
Both Netvibes and Google Personal sport tabbed interfaces to allow you to sort and organize your stuff, similarly, they both offer the option to re-organize the elements on the pages within each tab.
However, they both have slightly different takes on page layout and page usage. So while Netvibes lists all of the various feed items and widgets down the left, Google Personal has you click once or twice before you get to the aforementioned feeds and widgets.
But what you lose in terms of horizontal space with Netvibes, they sort of make up for by giving you the option to hide the left-hand panel.
Also with Netvibes, there’s all the regulars in there, such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, Digg, MySpace, Flickr et cetera. All of which are represented by their own little 16 pixel by 16 pixel colour icons, enhancing the look & feel and making the at-a-glance obviousness of the whole visual .. well, obvious.
And that’s the thing, like the man sez’ don’t make them think! They’ll thank you for it, too.
There are a lot more widgets for Google Personal than in Netvibes, but is it quality before quantity? Maybe.
Other people can add their own widgets, and it shows in places. The quality of some of the widgets in Google Personal aren’t exactly winning material.
Additionally, there’s a Settings panel within Netvibes that gives you all kinds of options, such as pagination, keyboard navigation, an option to increase the legibility of text, the list goes on.
And just to make things really homely, there’s a Themes option, so you get to choose from ten pre-set themes, which I imagine will be opened up at some point to allow me & thee to make our own themes.
All of which gives the user a whole heap of tricks to make Netvibes their Netvibes.
If I really must be critical of Netvibes, the left-hand panel can seem a little overwhelming. Maybe having each of the groups titled and then having the option to collapse them down might help.
What does mitigate this situation somewhat is the various theme that are available. Some help while others hinder. So choose wisely.
Additionally, the sheer number of options is bewildering. Clear, yes, but very numerous none the less. However, because Netvibes do such a good job of layering these details and only revealing them when needed – sort of a discoverable layering of options – I’m not going to mark them down for that.
Strange thing is, of all the options available with Netvibes, the option to colour each widget is strangely limited. But again, not a point dropper.
The score? I’ll be giving Netvibes 4 and Google Personal 2 for Customization.
Adding content (import, export et cetera)
Because of my job, because of me writing here, I have tons of links, I have loads of news sources and I need to keep them all if not in the one place, but all of the same type, format et cetera.
By exporting all of my feeds as an OPML file, I was able to take my news stuff anywhere I was.
So the question is, do our two reasonably formed personal web page protagonists let me go where I’d like with my news stuff?
With regards to Netvibes and Google Personal, yes for the former and no for the latter.
For me, I find that a disappointment. I would have expected Google to be here, but obviously not.
When it comes to adding widgets into you tabs, Netvibes makes things dirt simple. Because the left-hand panel lists the various feeds, you can either click & drag them onto the web page wherever you’d like it to be, or you could click the feed and then configure the feed item before you put it in place.
Google Personal isn’t quite as slick, but not exactly complicated. You first get transported to the Add Stuff page, where you find the widgets you want and click the Add Item button to drop them in.
OK, so that’s down-right dull, yeah?
I know, I know, I’m piling a lot of weight into the whizz-bang stuff. But when the whizz-bang stuff is applied judiciously, then the whizz-bang stuff delivers.
But in fairness to Google Personal, there are some very welcome and very useful widgets, such as your search history, Google Notebook, To-Do lists and Google Reader. All of which are full-blown utilities, that add value rather than just being something that gathers, retrieves, harvests, aggregates et cetera.
With these guys, you get to do something that can make your day run a little more smoothly. Whereas with Netvibes, the closest you get is Webnote, and To-Do List.
And within the Settings panel in Netvibes, there’s the option to Backup your news feeds as, yes, you’ve guessed it, an OPML file.
Just what I needed.
And the scores are a cool 3 to Google Personal and a red-hot 5 to Netvibes.
Socialization (sharing your stuff)
We all know about Digg and the kind of on-demand democracy it brings. Similarly, we all know about Flickr and how we can share our take on the world. Then there’s Del.icio.us and how we can share our bookmarks. And lastly, there’s Last.fm and how you can share what it is that you listen to and what it sounds get you through your day.
So the social web is firmly on the agenda, it’s a growing trend and not a fad.
But what do Netvibes and Google Personal offer in terms of sharing stuff and being all social?
To put it bluntly, Google Personal offers you nuthin’, ye here me? Nuthin’!
From this point in, I can only really talk about what Netvibes has to offer, which is considerable.
You can share each item individually, which is an option neatly accessible from the title bar of each widget. Or, you can publish your stuff for all the world to see.
There’s this thing – which incidentally has just taken me over five minutes to find – called Netvibes Ecosystem, which is where all of the Modules, Feeds, Podcasts, Events and Tabs are listed.
This is where your stuff gets published to. This is where the fun begins, assuming you’re any quicker at finding an obvious button to bring you here in the first place.
Each of the aforementioned headings has a main list showing a paginated list of items. To the right is a Popular and Random list of items, which offers some measure of exposure for everyone.
What’s cool is that each of the items listed in the main part of the window functions like a ‘blog entry, in that you can comment on those entries. To the right of the listed entries as a small plus button that allows you to instantly add that item to you Netvibes page.
As of writing this article, there’s eighty-three thousand nine hundred and four Feed items. So there’s plenty of people using Netvibes, we can be sure of that.
Predictably then, Google Personal a rather round 0 and Netvibes gets a very whole 4.5, not quite making the total because they choose to hide this splendid Ecosystem of theirs.
Rather ironically, Netvibes is in beta phase, which is the transitional phase quite of a few notable Google applications have found themselves ensconced for many a year.
While this review is hardly likely to bring careworn furrows to the brows of Google developers, I’d hope that they’d look to Netvibes in an aspirational sort of way and give some more serious thought to what can be achieved when purpose and a rich blend of community and good design are combined.
I like Netvibes a lot, and if it weren’t for the fact that Google Personal had this one killer feature, I’d use it more often.
And the killer feature is? Oh, it’s Google search…