Man about town Om Malik bumped into Netvibes CEO Tariq Krim at the The Future of Web Apps conference in San Francisco. Tariq told Om that Netvibes now has 5 million users, so naturally he is very optimistic of its future. Currently on Read/WriteWeb we're running a poll asking whether independent Personalized Start Pages (such as Netvibes, Pageflakes and Webwag) have a viable future as profitable businesses. The results so far have just 51% of respondents saying yes, start pages do have a future. 47% think no, they will go the way of the dot coms. 2% admitted they don't know what start pages are. The poll is still open, so have your say here:

I liked Om's conclusion, which I heartily agree with - not just for Netvibes but Pageflakes and the other small start pages too. Om said:

"...when I see Netvibes, I see a company that is offloading a bulk of heavy lifting to the client, aka the browser. Not very different than Skype, you could say. I see a tool that if nurtured properly could become the gatekeeper to my attention. Just like MySpace has the attention of its 100 million plus users, Netvibes can do the same, but as a starting point for our digital journeys. Of course, the company has to keep innovating and coming up with ways to extend their ecosystem. And they need to maintain unwavering focus on making the service easier, faster and more convenient to use."

Despite Netvibe's 5M user base (is that return users?), we're still a way off start pages being mainstream tools. Yahoo has shown little interest in doing one - which indicates they're still of niche value. And I've determined they're no good as RSS Readers (both Netvibes and Pageflakes ate up too much of my PC's memory every time they loaded up all my RSS feeds). But as a home to mini web apps and widgets, which will become increasingly popular, start pages have a promising future.