The personalized start page is dead. Long live the personalized start page. Pageflakes, a nice-looking but perennial also-ran in the world of start-page startups, has been officially acquired by Brad Greenspan’s Live Universe, a deal we reported earlier this week. Terms were not disclosed, but it was a combination of cash and stock. Pageflakes CEO Dan Cohen will remain in charge of the business and help to integrate it into LiveVideo, as well as continue to maintain it as a separate site.
Despite its easy of use and appealing UI, Pageflakes never really took off. ComScore measured only 50,000 unique U.S. visitors in March, compared to 1.4 million for competitor Netvibes. (And 191,000 uniques worldwide in February, versus 2.4 million for Netvibes). iGoogle had 7.4 million U.S. visitors in March, and My Yahoo had 19 million. But Cohen, who used to run My Yahoo, argues that the difference has more to do with distribution deals than organic growth and that linking up with Live Universe will give Pageflakes the distribution it needs. Says Cohen:
A lot of the growth in the personalized start page category has historically been kickstarted and is still derived from internal and external distribution deals, not organic or viral growth. The original My Yahoo of ten years ago received an incredible amount of traffic from the main Yahoo.com portal (and it still does), and the same went for iGoogle when it launched in 2005 – that little “iGoogle” link in the upper right hand corner of the standard Google.com page was the engine that drove (and continues to drive) traffic to the site.
Comscore shows that even our friends at Netvibes derive most of their current traffic from one deal, the my.alot.com white-label page they did with MIVA, and didn’t experience any growth until that deal occurred last fall. In short, to really thrive in this category, you need big distribution deals with generous revenue share percentages.
I do think that the number of traditional personalized start pages that can co-exist as standalone sites (not affiliated with a distribution network) is pretty small.
In other words, maybe he should have stayed at Yahoo—or Google (where he also worked briefly). The other thing you’ve got to wonder is: What will the half-life of start pages be in a Friendfeed world?