I've been tracking the development of all the personalized start pages that have flowered up over the past year. Live.com, Google Personalized Homepage, Netvibes, PageFlakes, et al. These are services that don't just offer a place to store all your content and links - but house your widgets, gadgets and web services too. I'll be publishing an analysis of the feature sets of the leading services on ZDNet tonight, but I want to set the scene by discussing their growing popularity - which makes for an obvious comparison to portals in the late 90's.
TechCrunch calls them AJAX homepages, because they all use AJAX in the UI. For that reason there's something uniquely 'Web 2.0' about personalized start pages. But in other ways, they harken back to the dot com era when portals were all the rage (Excite, AltaVista, Lycos, etc). For example, the main aim of the game is still getting traffic.
Looking at the 2006 class of portals/personalized pages, there are two distinct groups:
In terms of traffic, it's difficult to gauge how the big guns compare to one another. But amongst the little guys Netvibes has been getting all the buzz and early traffic, as this Alexa chart shows:
To put that into perspective though, it's small potatoes compared to live.com:
Update: A source at Microsoft tells me that the Live.com figure on Alexa may include mail.live.com, which gets a lot of traffic. If that's the case, take the following paragraph with a grain of salt...
I added the top web-based RSS Reader Bloglines into the chart to show just how significant Live.com - and Personalized start pages in general - are becoming. Bloglines smokes every other web-based RSS Reader and has been no slug in traffic growth lately, yet it was overtaken in traffic by Live.com after just 1-2 months. In fact Live.com currently has double the amount of traffic of Bloglines! I would imagine Google isn't too far behind Live.com either.
It goes to show how valuable this type of service could be, in terms of traffic and being a 'start page' for users. More grist for the Portals 2.0 mill, because portals too were all about getting 'eyeballs' and traffic.
Incidentally, I have a question for you: where is Yahoo in all this? My Yahoo is more like a dot com portal than a Personalized start page. Aside from the obvious observation that My Yahoo isn't made of AJAX, it's still basically a portal for mostly static content. Yahoo owns one of the leading widget makers, konfabulator (now known as Yahoo! Widgets), but it's not integrated with My Yahoo. Why haven't they joined the 'AJAX homepages' party yet?
UPDATE: I've now posted an Ajax homepages market review on ZDNet.