The widget is ready for its closeup. Today at the LeWeb conference in Paris, Netvibes announced a major step forward in how widgets are presented on a start page. Instead of the standard jumble of boxes filled mostly with text-only feeds, Netvibes members can now arrange the different widgets they subscribe to in different layouts that help to break up the page. And within a given widget, they can choose different viewing options for how they see each feed, including carousel view, magazine, streaming ticker, and normal text-headline views.
Maybe I’m just excited about this because I’m a former magazine guy, but I always thought Netvibes and most other start pages were way too ugly. The problem with start pages, visually, is that once you add more than a dozen or so feeds, all the boxes meld together and it becomes difficult to see at a glance what has changed. Simply changing the layout to emphasize more important feeds, and then tweaking the look of adjacent widget boxes, makes it much more pleasurable to read.
Netvibes is not alone in thinking about how to present collections of widgets in a more graphic way. In October, Google added its wide, canvas view to iGoogle gadgets. Just because information is coming from different sources doesn’t mean that it cannot benefit from a well designed layout.
To change the layout of an entire page within Netvibes, you click on the option pull-down menu arrow on each tab and pick your layout. To change the layout of an individual widget, you click on “edit” within that widget, and then pick the view you want. (You can read more details on this Netvibes blog post). Netvibes pulls images from the feeds as well, although they tend to be a little fuzzy.
And a year after promising to do so, Netvibes is now finally supporting OpenSocial. Any widget created with its Universal Widget API can be turned into an an OpenSocial app. The developer sandbox to test OpenSocial apps will be here. (Last month, Netvibes implemented Facebook Connect features that lets users share any feed item, widget, or tab with friends on Facebook, or on Twitter as well).
The two (silent) videos below show the new tab and widget layout options and how they look: