Popular start-page service Netvibes may be in its final days as a viable product. The service has been suffering frequent, extended downtime, hasn't been fully functioning even when up and can't possibly be making as much money as its backers hoped it would.

Update: Please see our follow up post on this topic - I Was Wrong; Netvibes is Not Going Down The Tubes.

Start-pages are highly customizable services that display RSS feeds and lots of other little tools inside widgets on a page. The most successful have been MyYahoo and iGoogle. There used to be a horde of startups trying to enter this market but the energy is largely gone. When your startpage doesn't load, your personal entry point into the web has failed you and it can really put a damper on your day. That's where Netvibes is right now. Update: The site is back up again. If you want to export your feeds and try one of the many alternatives, now's your chance. It turns out though that Netvibes still has a lot of very happy users, as you can see in the comments. We're glad to hear it and despite our deep frustration and worries that the company isn't doing well - we really hope we're wrong.

We've been in contact with Netvibes executives over recent weeks about a number of different problems there. We've had trouble adding feeds and sharing tabs with other users. The company was unable to reproduce those problems, but we know we are not the only ones experiencing them.

In the meantime, the service is just failing to load altogether again today. Netvibes CEO Freddy Mini said last month that the company's service provider has had repeated problems supporting users on the West Coast of the US, but we've tested it from all over the US and are seeing the same problems.

It's enough to make you take your OPML file and go home. That's a real loss because Netvibes is probably the best in class among start-pages, in terms of features. It works in Firefox and Safari, has an excellent mobile version and just feels more powerful than the alternatives.

Unfortunately, business can't be too good at Netvibes. The company's business model revolves around sponsored widgets, search ads and a handful of sponsored pages like Ogilvy PR's The Daily Influence. (That page is also currently down.)

We'd guess that none of those monetization plans are working out as well as the company hoped they would. The company may soon suffer a fate similar to that of rival Pageflakes, which was recently acquired by Live Universe. Live Universe was founded by one of the MySpace founders, Brad Greenspan, and that company is now where washed-up content goes when it is put out to the pasture of remnant bulk advertising.

We sure hope you can get it together Netvibes. We know you had dreams of tens or hundreds of millions of people happily building their own little corner of the web, assembling and sharing topical collections of pages and making Netvibes the center of their online worlds. Those dreams may not have worked out so far, but we'd still appreciate it if your damn site would load for those of us who have put it at the center of our time online.