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Dozens of personalised homepages (aka "AJAX homepages") have emerged over the past 18 months as developers started to programme lovely drag and drop interfaces, allowing users to customise the layout of their personal homepage. Cool technology, great use of AJAX, but is there trouble ahead?

The personalised start page sector shrunk by at least one this month: Fold.com died, and the domain has since been purchased by what appears to be a barcode operator. Maybe it will re-emerge under a different name, who knows? I doubt it.

Fold emerged earlier this year, moving into public beta as recently as March. It made a bold claim to be ‘the Web 2.0 application’. It wasn't. It only worked on Firefox, providing an instant barrier to the 8 out of 10 cats who only use IE. Surely Web 2.0 isn’t about minimising opportunities to scale?

The biggest problem with most of these homepages isn’t so much the technology, nor the scale, but rather the lack of any noticeable business model [cue groans]. Smart though they are, you get the feeling that none of these pureplay AJAX homepages are going to make any money.

Not that this has stopped some of the top investors in the web space from getting in on the action. This month Benchmark Capital has invested an undisclosed amount in Pageflakes, an AJAX homepage startup based in Germany. I’m curious to see where this leads. Maybe Pageflakes has some kind of secret revenue sauce, which hasn’t yet made its way out of the bottle?

Another AJAX homepage, Netvibes, is perhaps a little bit more interesting. It too has bagged some seed funding from the A-list digerati including Index Ventures and Pierre Chappaz, one of the founders of Kelkoo. And it is the investment from Chappaz that helps explain where Netvibes might be heading.

Most of the content on these AJAX homepages is built around APIs (Flickr, Google, Yahoo, etc) and RSS (your favourite blogs / news sources). News headlines, weather forecasts, stock quotes, that kind of thing.

However, on the default Netvibes homepage, which you can immediately start to customise without needing to log in, there is another content box that pulls in product feed data from Kelkoo. Let’s assume this is linked up to Kelkoo’s affiliate programme. And let’s ignore the fact that it doesn’t work properly (this could be a feed issue, but the pricing was somewhat wonky when I tried it out…).

So the Kelkoo feed appears to be the first whiff of a monetisation strategy for Netvibes, and maybe for AJAX homepages more broadly, though it isn’t clear whether the homepage owner earns the affiliate revenue from Kelkoo, or whether this will help swell Netvibes’ revenues. Kelkoo’s affiliate scheme pays out between 10p and 35p per click directed to participating merchants (from clicks referred by affiliates). Maybe it will share revenue, maybe it won't, but with such small referral fees it will need significant scale to make any serious headway.

Netvibes is a great product, or at least a great implementation of AJAX. Is it a great business? It is hard to say at this stage, but you sense that there is a long way to go. But it has funding, and aside from Chappaz’s interest in driving Kelkoo leads, the business plan must surely have contained more than the following four dirty words: ‘get scale, get acquired’.

Maybe then, given the personal nature of these homepages, we’ll see a shift into social shopping. Kind of community-orientated, user-generated affiliate activity, where they plug in product feeds from other sources and earn affiliate fees for Netvibes?

This probably means joining up communities, MySpace-style. A community could be a family, with one person acting as the hub, managing birthday wishlists on shared calendars (does Google Calendar have an API yet?). Or it could be a group of friends into similar things. Or a publisher’s spin-off for that matter. But then there’s the risk of morphing from an AJAX homepage startup into a dedicated social shopping site? If that is indeed any sort of risk…

At any rate, I can’t imagine that any of the existing AJAX homepages will pose any real challenge to the likes of My Yahoo! unless they start doing something wildly different, for users and for their own business models. Yahoo is of course coming at this from a position of massive, insurmountable scale.

Can an AJAX homepage solve a problem? Sure, but perhaps we need to see an implementation on an existing website with a solid business model. You know, Tesco, Amazon, eBay. Maybe we’ll create something for you, fine E-consultancy reader, to allow you to customise our homepage.

And hey, this could be one of the new revenue streams for the remaining players in the personalised start page ‘market’: taking a trip down White Label Avenue.

UPDATE: This article appeared on Digg.com and upon reading the comments there seems to be some confusion. Just to be clear: I love AJAX. I also like what these 'AJAX homepages' are doing ("Ajax homepages" = Netvibes, Pageflakes) but I have a few concerns about their longevity as businesses (which was the whole point of writing this article). And when I talk about 'Ajax homepages' I'm referring only to websites like Netvibes and Pageflakes and MyYahoo... customisable, drag and drop, user-defined pages. It isn't a critique of Ajax as a technology ;  )

Chris Lake

Published 15 June, 2006 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Jon Bovard

Jon Bovard, Director of eCommerce at A well known Telco

There is value to be derived from AJAX from an eCommerce perspective in the form of 2 things

1. Suggested/Prompted search - which is 'supposed' to return users better quality results and therefore better conversion. In theory.

2. Product interactivity via Product Zoom/Mouse overs - should and does (according to some) produce greater conversion.

beyond those 2, im yet to see a sensible use of AJAX that produces a revenue stream (other than the stream out of a VC's pocket!)

Jon

about 10 years ago

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Ciaron Dunne, Director at www.broadbandgenie.co.uk

As Yahoo and Google are now offering similiar functionality I have yet to see how these Ajax homepages are going to evolve either. Perhaps they will just become pages of affiliate links link the other 1000+ out there.

I did hear a podcast interview with Pierre Chappaz the other week where they asked him how Netvibes would make money. He said "we will charge services to promote their functionality through the Netvibes homepages and maybe show other companies how to setup web2 homepages!"

As long as they keep those eyeballs coming I can see the former working. As for showing other companies how to set them up or hosting them white label style... what do you guys think?

about 10 years ago

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Dicky Johan, Hippojump

I agree with the comment that using technology for the sake of technology is going nowhere. The question is what purpose does AJAX serve in homepages?

But AJAX itself as a technology is definitely very exciting indeed. Like, for example, what JackBe tries to do by replacing traditional old VB apps with AJAX based applications that preserve similar user interfaces, it would not only allow users to easily adapt to the new application, but at the same time, reduce a lot of IT administration work.

I, for one, am using AJAX to create an alert system within the browser using the pull model. Whenever new information is available, the user is alerted. AJAX is the best way to go!

about 10 years ago

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daz smith

Well I hope my new ajax homepage offering is bringing something new to the table. Yes we have all the usual suspects like;
news, widgets, but we also focus more on the customise experience allowing users to pick from many different looks called themes, and we allow the user to use and soon to create and add their own antipixel buttons and much more. You can upload and send you images as ecards and much more! What we want is for the consumer to choose how they use their mygetgo either as just a normal homepage, a blog, a search tool, a news source, for social networking - or just about anything else, we and the user can think of doing with content and the web.

all the best...

Daz Smith - Owner of www.mygetgo.com

about 9 years ago

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cornice london

Thanks for this article, it's great. So great that we've made it 'sticky' on The Webmaster Forums. Now we don't have to repeat ourselves, just send people to this article!

over 7 years ago

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cornice

Excellent SITE. I will refer people to your ITEMS. Effective use of Wordpress had some exceptional.
Cheers

over 7 years ago

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rubbish clearance london

NICE TUTORIAL!
Very interesting and useful informations.
This looks good! Really good tutorial include so many helpful informations!
Excellent SITE. I will refer people to your ITEMS.
Cheers

over 7 years ago

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polskie strony internetowe

Excellent SITE. I will refer people to your ITEMS. Effective use of Wordpress had some exceptional.
Cheers

over 7 years ago

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amber jewellery

But AJAX itself as a technology is definitely very exciting indeed. Like, for example, what JackBe tries to do by replacing traditional old VB apps with AJAX based applications that preserve similar user interfaces, it would not only allow users to easily adapt to the new application, but at the same time, reduce a lot of IT administration work.

I, for one, am using AJAX to create an alert system within the browser using the pull model. Whenever new information is available, the user is alerted. AJAX is the best way to go

over 7 years ago

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online florist

Well well well, what a interesting conversation.... I do agree with author - ajax is nice, but causing cross-browser issues and misunderstadings.... and causing huge problems for developers... :(

over 6 years ago

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Gulsene

2. Product interactivity via Product Zoom/Mouse overs - should and does (according to some) produce greater conversion. beyond those 2, im yet to see a sensible use of AJAX that produces a revenue stream (other than the stream out of a VC's pocket!)

about 6 years ago

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ogniwa fotowoltaiczne

Of course ajax is nice and we all have a lot of fun with developing (ajax solutions are more like windows :) ) However, we are encountering slow loading websites, browser squeeze and all related things where use of ajax slow down user experience.

almost 6 years ago

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