Ed Note: The Rev2 Cabinet is a new weekly investigative series we’re starting at Rev2 where we take an in-depth look into some of the leading companies, startups, and services. Along with a podcast interview with our associate editor Zach Sims (embedded below and in the RSS feed), leading executives and CEOs offer insights into their startups and services which we analyze with an in-depth writeup. If you’re interested in being profiled, please contact Zach.
Interview with Dan Cohen, CEO of Pageflakes
[Download MP3] [50:56]
There was a time when reading from one source was enough for anyone. The New York Times, or portals like Yahoo! captivated the attention of readers in the pre-Web 2.0 era. In the modern day, however, the need for information can’t be sated by one source. Instead, users traverse the Internet in search of dozens of sites that appeal to the niche they’re looking for information from. RSS feeds, invented by web pioneer Dave Winer, are widely touted as one of the greatest successes of the “Web 2.0 revolution,” and with good reason. Since the creation of RSS, users have been able to read content without having to travel to each individual website. It’s a productivity bonus for some, and it gives them the ability to read far more material.
With new openness came new applications to manage the newfound treasure trove of feeds. Desktop readers like NewsGator and NetNewsWire popped up, but Internet giants realized the importance of RSS at the same time. As RSS went mainstream and high profile websites like The New York Times embraced the new technology, players like Google and Yahoo! got involved. Personalized homepages like My Yahoo! and Google Personalized Homepage [currently iGoogle], began to help users centralize their content. Dan Cohen was in the thick of the action as an executive at both Google and Yahoo!
A New Genre Emerges
Now, however, he heads up Pageflakes, an innovative and pioneering startup that seeks to best the offerings of Yahoo! and Google. For the most part, they’ve succeeded. Cohen has created a unique concept, the social personalized homepage. Competitors like Netvibes focus solely on centering the information of their users. Pageflakes, however, ensures that this information is shared with friends.
Not Quite a Social Network, But Definitely Not a Portal
I had the opportunity to speak with CEO Dan Cohen regarding Pageflakes about a month ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at the impressive innovation occurring at the company. Cohen was proud of his switch to Pageflakes, noting that it finally gave him the opportunity focus on the one product he loved. Cohen bristled when I called Pageflakes a portal, and was quick to point out a couple of differences between Pageflakes and competing sites. Simply featuring RSS, he explained, didn’t foster interactivity. Including widgets is the first step, but Pageflakes’ uniqueness is instead derived from the idea of pagecasting, which Cohen claims “blends the social network with the portal.” No, it’s not trying to be the next Facebook or MySpace. Instead, users are given a simple profile with “very basic” information and asked to connect to others with.
Podcasting, one of the crucial creations of Web 2.0 and RSS, focuses on the broadcasting of audio segments. Pageflakes has experimented with a similar form of broadcasting, but with users’ personalized homepages instead. The result is a pagecast, or a public page that can be created by any user. Pageflakes, for example, featured an Election pagecast, with information pulled in from various news sources, and the candidates’ websites. Users can also share “flakes,” tabs in their personalized homepage.
I asked Cohen about Netvibes’ Universal Widget API as well, but he wasn’t nearly as receptive to the idea as many industry pundits were. Instead, he claimed that it was just one of the latest standards that “come and go.” Pageflakes, he said, was committed to adopting most current formats. The “anything” flake, for example, lets users post code into a flake, like something created in WidgetBox.
One Page for Everyone
Most users pick up on the personalized homepage trend because they have accounts with Google or Yahoo! [and thus use iGoogle, or My Yahoo!, respectively]. For those who are registering with Pageflakes for the first time, however, the process is effortless and far easier than that at competitors’ sites. Pageflakes asks users for interests they have and their location, and then populates the page with relevant RSS feeds, widgets, weather, movie showtimes, and more. It’s easier than the setup of any personalized homepage we’ve seen so far, and we think it’s easy enough for a complete luddite to start using Pageflakes. The default pages are constantly altered by a team of human editors and by the community.
For those who’d like to make their Pageflakes a little more personal, there are plenty of options. Netvibes, Pageflakes’ key startup competitor, simply allows the use of themes that are prepopulated into their system and designed by Netvibes. Pageflakes gives users the ability to create their own skins.
Addition and Subtraction
It’s easy enough to create a homepage, but how easy is it ot change once you’ve tired with the default choices? Pageflakes makes it refreshingly easy to find new widgets, with a large icon in the corner of the screen that opens up the on-site gallery. The gallery features highly rated widgets, feeds, and more that are constantly updated and organized by category. For those who tire of the expansive offerings there, the full catalog of Pageflakes’ widgets is available through the “Browse All Flakes,” option, which offers a search to users.
Who’s Leading Who?
For users that maintain successful pagecasts, there remains only one way to incorporate advertising: through embeddable advertising in the “Anything” flake. Pageflakes is impressed with the monetization of some portals but has been far more impressed by the endeavors of their users in the fields of education and small business. Pageflakes, claimed Cohen, “will mutate in the hands of its users.” A great example of this comes in education, where Pageflakes has recently launched new features at teacher.pageflakes.com. As a student myself, I find the site incredibly easy to use and wonder why more districts aren’t adopting the easy-to-use solution. It’s an easy way for students to centralize their homework, their schedules, and their out of school interests.
Pageflakes’ future is up to its users, who Cohen claims help to direct the company in new directions. Education, for example, arose only after school districts and individual teachers e-mailed the company to tell them of their experiences. Pageflakes is an innovative company, but competitors like Netvibes are hot on their heels. Netvibes’ new Ginger release, which will go live in mid-February, has similar features as Pageflakes, including public “universes,” and a new social networking tangent as well. Pageflakes’ features have had a longer time to mature, however, and are probably easier to use. While it’s far too early to call a victor in the homepage war, it’s easy to say that Pageflakes is an easy to set up, easy to maintain personalized homepage that includes far more features than more commercial offerings like MyYahoo and iGoogle. If you’re still reading this post in a web browser, we suggest you try reading it from Pageflakes. It just might centralize your life too.