Netvibes is opening up the beta for its Ginger release, and 500 invites have been reserved for the first TechCrunch readers to sign up here (enter code: “TCGINGER500″). Ginger will become the default interface for all Netvibes members in mid-February, but if you click fast you can get a peak now.
Netvibes is a customizable start page that lets you add any RSS feed, as well as other apps in the form of widgets that you can drag around the page and place anywhere you want. With Ginger, Netvibes has a new Ajax user-interface that pops down a pane from the top whenever you want to add new widgets to your personlaized start page. It also now lets anyone create their own public “Netvibes Universe” page (before, these were just pages for brands). You can star items in any feed as a bookmarking feature, and there is now an activity stream so you can see what your friends are publicly starring and sharing as well. There is still no internal messaging system, however.
I spoke with CEO Tariq Krim, who took me through the new features by phone from Paris. Overall, Ginger makes the Netvibes experience a lot smoother and finding widgets to add to your start page couldn’t be simpler (even though there are 110,000 widgets to choose from). The problem with Netvibes is that if you don’t get into the habit of going there as your start page first thing when you log on in the morning, you are liable to skip it altogether. I asked Krim when he will turn his widgets into Facebook or OpenSocial apps. That way, people could bring the widgets to where they already go to organize the Web for themselves, if that place does not happen to be Netvibes.
Krim is working on this portability. Netvibes is part of OpenSocial and he’s had Bebo-like discussions with Facebook. “Both consortia would like us to be exclusive on their technology,” he sighs. (Sounds like the platform war is in full swing). Krim says he wants to work with both OpenSocial and Facebook. Ultimately,he doesn’t care where you consume his widgets. By the end of the first quarter, he plans on introducing widget ads in the form of micro-banners and text ads. The problem with widget ads, though, is that there are no standards.
“We need the equivalent of OpenSocial for advertising,” he laments. If only everyone could agree on how to make money, the widget economy might actually come into existence.
Update (Michael Arrington): Tariq Krim gave me a brief overview of Ginger this morning, see video below.