I’ve been spending time trying various services in an effort to make my blogging more efficient and so I can provide you with some good recommendations. One of those services is NetVibes. NetVibes is one of the new breed of customizable personal home pages, and it’s got a lot going for it. It recently made the list of the Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2007. In order to best show you this, I’ve made some short screencasts using Jing.
So… can NetVibes help you be a better blogger? Well, it won’t improve your writing, design, or networking skills for you, but it puts a lot of things all in one place. And that, my friends, tends to save time and help you be more productive.
When you arrive at NetVibes, you see a sample page that invites customization. By the time you’ve played around with it a bit, you’re ready to create a free account or lose your customizations (very clever). The customizations run fairly deep:
- Add widgets, content boxes of all various kinds.
- Enter a Universe, which is a combination theme and custom content according to a subject (like TechCrunch)
- Add tabs, where each tab can have various widgets on it. Tab names and icons are customizable. You can choose how many columns of widgets to display.
- You can choose from several ready-made themes to provide a look and feel that’s different from the default, or you can create your own theme by customizing widget title bar colors, header background color or picture, and page background color or picture. Setting this up is simple yet sophisticated.
Widgets can be dragged to different locations or different tabs. They can be customized individually according to each one’s capabilities. They can be minimized and removed.
One of the primary uses for NetVibes is as a feed reader. Adding feeds is as easy as copy and paste, or through the use of feed auto-discovery and a subscribe bookmarklet. It’s also ridiculously easy to listen to podcasts in NetVibes (Screencast of subscribing to RSS in NetVibes).
Here are some widgets a blogger would find useful:
- Email fetching from any POP email account (Gmail, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.).
- As many to-do lists as you want.
- A widget specifically for Remember the Milk task manager service.
- Web search from all major search engines in one widget.
- Technorati/Ice Rocket/Google Blog Search and other blog searches in one widget (see screencast of blog search and video search).
- Video search from all major video hosting/sharing services in one widget.
- Image search from all major image searches and picture hosting services (Google Images, Flickr, etc.) in one widget.
- Alexa traffic graphs.
- Del.icio.us bookmarks.
- Webnotes, which are simple freeform “note to self” boxes.
- Posting directly to a WordPress.com blog from within NetVibes.
- A Skype module.
There are probably many more that bloggers would find useful.
NetVibes supports importing and exporting OPML (Online Processor Markup Language, used for importing/exporting RSS feed lists) files, so you can import your existing RSS feeds you have exported as OPML from any other reader software or service. You can also perform backups of your NetVibes data, which is pretty cool.
There are some aspects about NetVibes that I don’t like. The more widgets and tabs you have, the longer it takes to load. You can change the settings so that only feeds and widgets load for each tab when clicked, but it’s still a bit of a hog. It has caused Internet Explorer 6 to hang on me a few times, but I’ve had no problems with it on Firefox or Internet Explorer 7. Some other issues I have with it:
- No AdSense or AdWords widgets.
- While there is a module to let you blog to your WordPress.com blog, there isn’t one for self-hosted WordPress blogs. There is one other module that claims to allow for this, but if you read the comments, nobody seems to be able to get it to work.
- Reading feeds is not as smooth or efficient an experience as a dedicated feed reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines. There is no “river of news” type of view for all feeds, since each feed occupies one widget (you could use a feed aggregator to create one “master” feed, but I’d like to see NetVibes do a better job with its feed reading experience).
- The non-stop tooltips popping up all over the place get a little annoying.
- You can’t be logged into it simultaneously from more than one computer.
I would recommend you give NetVibes a try and see if it’s right for you. We all have different needs and different ways of working. I have found NetVibes to be truly productive and useful, and you might, too. The trick is to spend time up front getting the widgets you need, since you basically have to search for them or spend time browsing them.
Tips for Getting the Most from NetVibes
- Only display 2 or 3 feed items for each feed to save space (you can always see more of the feeds in that feed’s single page.
- Keep tab names short and don’t use tab icons if you want a lot of tabs without taking up too much space (they’ll wrap to a new line, but looks kinda ugly).
- Hide the title at the top to really save some space.
- Use feed aggregation services to pool feeds in order to reduce widget clutter.
- Import your OPML file from your previous reader service or software to get going in NetVibes.
- Set your tabs so that their contents don’t load until you access the tab–this speeds up initial loading time. Put less content on more tabs in order to speed up a sluggish download.
- Avoid putting too many bandwidth-intensive widgets on the same tab.
- To mark all feeds in a RSS widget as read without opening them, click on the number of unread feeds in parentheses next to the feed’s name in the title bar or tab (for all feeds on a tab).
What Do You Think?
Are you a current NetVibes user? Have you just signed up for it and want to tell everyone about it (good or bad)? Do you have questions about NetVibes? Please be sure to leave a comment below!
More Reviews Coming
NetVibes isn’t the only tool like this, there are many others. I’ll be reviewing some of the more popular personal homepages with an eye to using them as blogging tools. You may have noticed my screencasts were done with Jing. That review is coming up shortly! If you don’t want to miss these in-depth reviews, please be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed!