Disclosure: Pageflakes is a sponsor of Read/WriteWeb.
Pageflakes has undergone a major upgrade to its interface, which has just gone live today. Back in May I posted about Pageflakes' page publishing feature, which enables users to share their pages with other people - as read-only or editable. This type of community functionality has been extended in the new version of Pageflakes. On the homepage it states:It's the season of v2.0 launches! The personalized start page
"You can have multiple pages. For each of them you can choose to keep it private, share it with friends or publish it on the Web."
The idea is to enable users to form groups and share widgets that way. This may drive user growth, as people get 'invited' into the system by their friends and family. That looks to be the plan anyway - and it'll be interesting to watch how it works out. There is still a sense that personalized start pages are too geeky for the average user, which Pageflakes (and its competition) will need to overcome.
Differences between Pageflakes and its competition
The page sharing and publishing functionality differentiates Pageflakes from its competitors - and gives Pageflakes a social networking feel to it. Netvibes (probably its main competitor) appears to be focusing more on being a homepage for individual users - reflected in the Netvibes motto of "making your digital life better". Webwag, a recent entry to this space, has also established itself as a player via a strategic partnership with Yahoo.
What's interesting here is that the leading small players (i.e. not Google or Microsoft) are beginning to differentiate themselves - each has their own style and positioning now. Could this be a sign that the start pages space is maturing?
Nevertheless there's a bit of an 'arms race' going on between all the start pages regarding the number of widgets they have. Pageflakes has 120, while Netvibes has 391. Microsoft's Live.com has 442 at this date. But all are dwarfed by Google Personalized Page, which boasts 1531 gadgets (see my 10 favorite here). It may not be totally apples and oranges, in terms of what each vendor counts as a widget - e.g. some of Google's widgets are pretty much just RSS feeds. In any case, I think Pageflakes is wise to focus on building its community features rather than try and compete on number of widgets.
The Start Page space never ceases to interest me, as it's a hotbed of web innovation. The pace is hot too, as both Netvibes and Pageflakes have released "2.0" versions recently!