Home Business Models For Start Pages

Business Models For Start Pages

Recently a new personalized start page product was announced, Webwag. In the comments to my post about Webwag, several
people expressed their view that start pages are not a viable business. Personally I
think start pages have plenty of opportunities to make money, despite (and sometimes
because of) competition from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

An independent platform

The first point to make is that – unlike the big Internet companies – start pages like
Netvibes, Pageflakes and Webwag are independent. This means they can act as a
platform for a wider range of businesses than the big Internet companies – whose main
purpose is to be a platform for their own portal products.

In practical terms, what this means is that the small start pages can make
partnerships with other small businesses and startups. A recent example of this is Pageflakes teaming up with Zixxo to offer local
. As the Pageflakes blog put it:

“…businesses can create and manage their coupons with Zixxo and they syndicate
them out to local consumers through partner websites. All Pageflakes users can now add
the Zixxo Flake to their personal page and search for local coupons, specials and

Pageflakes has also recently buddied
up with
Odeo Podcasts, Rapleaf Reputations, Correios Package Tracking and others.

Netvibes also has a raft of partner modules – including for eBay,

Meebo and Alexa

So we’re seeing a number of these ‘partnerships’ happening in the start page space and
it’ll only increase over time. While there’s nothing stopping the big companies (Google,
MS, Y!) doing the same, in reality their major priority is to promote their own
proprietary product range. For example, why would Google Personalized Page promote Zixxo‘s coupons when they have their own Google Local coupons?

Pageflakes homepage

The Widgetizing of the Web

If you consider the trend towards a world of widgets and gadgets (mini web
applications), you begin to see the potential to make real money from an independent
platform. As I wrote in a June article entitled The Future of
Personalized Start Pages
, the likes of Pageflakes and Netvibes “are building up to a
near future where gadgets/widgets will be much more plentiful and functional.
Basically these start pages are expecting the world of web services to blossom in the
next few years, which is my expectation too.”

The big Internet companies stand to gain a lot from this too – e.g. in my recent interview with GM
Windows Live George Moore
, he said that Windows Live is being built on their gadget
architecture. Microsoft expects to see gadgets being used across many different devices.
Moore said:

“The gadget architecture can actually render to any number of different technologies.
It can render to DHTML, to Avalon, etc. So it would be up to the gadget author to detect
if they’re running on a Vista machine, if they choose.”

So widgets/gadgets are ramping up to be a key part of the Web platform going forward,
which all the start pages (big and small) are ideally placed to leverage. And the smaller
start pages have certainly not shied away from building up their platforms. Pageflakes
now has 100 “flakes” (i.e.
widgets) and recently introduced more
customization options
. Likewise, Netvibes is putting in a lot of work
on their module ecosystem.

Netvibes Ecosystem

White Labelling

Another option for small start pages is to white label their technology – i.e. offer
it to other organizations as a customizable start page. I can see a lot of potential
demand from
and media companies to use a start page, with their own branding, so that
employees and/or customers may create their own ‘portal’ experience. Similar to what Reddit is doing
in the social news space.

Affiliate Marketing

Webwag CEO Franck Poisson
said that
affiliate marketing is a key aspect of their start page, a la what Netvibes
is doing with Kelkoo. And as e-consultancy recently
, there is potential for start pages to move into ‘social shopping’. This could
mean building on the partnerships mentioned above and ensuring that start pages get a cut
of whatever is sold via a merchant’s widget on their page.

New start page, Webwag

International Expansion

This is one of the more interesting areas for small start pages to explore,
particularly given the relative weakness of the big Internet companies outside of the US
and english-speaking countries. It’s interesting to note that the small start pages I’ve
mentioned in this post are all based in Europe – Pageflakes in Germany, Netvibes in
France and Webwag in France too.

Netvibes is in the process
of making their service much more international:

“At netvibes, we are actively working to make our service available to everyone in
every language. In fact, we have already built a collaborative tool for the translation
of any content on netvibes. The service, now in beta, enabled us to successfully
translate the site into Spanish and Japanese.”

Similarly, Pageflakes has recently localized to China, Brazil
and Germany.

So catering to the international markets is a key way that the small start pages can
do business – because as I’ve discovered while doing my series on international web
, localization
and it’s something the big Internet companies aren’t necessarily good at.


Pageflakes CEO Christoph Janz told me that “personalized startpages like Pageflakes
have a business model that is similar to ‘old school’ portals: build a large customer
base and monetize it via advertising, e-commerce commissions and lead generation.” And
Christoph believes the independence of small start pages will enable them to “connect
thousands of providers with millions of consumers of digital content, services and

Which is to say: there are opportunities aplenty for smart start pages and I think the
early entrants Netvibes and Pageflakes are particularly well-placed to take advantage of
them. I’ll be interested to see what Webwag brings to the table, plus it wouldn’t
surprise me to see more entrants to this market (e.g. it’s not a stretch for the likes of
Suprglu or 43Things to consider doing a start page).

Of course the big 3 will likely take a huge chunk of the start pages market, but in my view there are more than enough opportunities for the smaller players.

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