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Webwag, the latest creation of ex-Google France chief Franck Poisson, is set to go live at the end of this month, adding more competition to the 'customisable start page' arena.

Speaking to E-consultancy, Poisson said that the site "will move out of beta on August 28", before being officially announced in early September.

Webwag is set to take on the likes of Yahoo and Google, as well as independent ventures such as Pageflakes and Netvibes, another France-based start-up that’s backed by Netscape boss Marc Andreessen and Kelkoo founder Pierre Chappaz.

According to Poisson, Webwag will shortly launch a toolbar, allowing users to import bookmarks and other sites into widgets on their home page, as well as to search their chosen sites or the web as a whole. For the latter, it has inked a partnership with a “big search company”, which Poisson won’t name.

There’s been a lot of recent activity in the development of Ajax-based homepages (aka 'personalised start pages ' aka 'customisable homepages'), as well as interest from VCs, but the main focus so far would seem to have been on user acquisition rather than monetisation.

Netvibes, formed by journalist Tariq Krim last year, says it has recruited over five million users of its service, and raised $15 million earlier this month in a round of seed financing led by existing backer Index Ventures.

Meanwhile, Benchmark Capital has invested in Pageflakes, another start-up based in Germany. But as Chris wrote in June, we've yet to see how sites intend to make money from Ajax homepages. We love the user interfaces and the functionality of course, and we're anticipating that there will be some solid revenue streams announced by these startups over the coming months.

According to Poisson, Webwag’s revenue streams will include affiliate marketing – something Netvibes is doing via Kelkoo - and B2B deals, an as yet unexplored area. Chris previously suggested that white labelling this technology is one key revenue opportunity for these firms to consider.

Poisson said: "As Web 2.0 develops over the next three three to five years, two things will remain. Firstly, everyone will have their own blog, and over 75% of people will have their own personalised start pages.

"My belief is the big search portals (My Yahoo etc) will get 50% of that market, and 50% will be taken by three to four independents.

However, Web 2.0 watchers such as Ian Delaney of twopointouch say the indie start page outfits could have a tough time limiting churn to the big players. 

"Personalised home pages are hardly an innovation, though the extra-rich functionality offered by sites like Netvibes isn't yet possible on the mainstream sites. I'm anxious, though, that if Google or Yahoo suddenly upgrade their own services to leapfrog the independents, they'll have a hard time retaining users.

"Successful Web 2.0 services lock their users in through network effects and the difficulty of starting again on a competing service. Personalised home pages don't have either of those hooks. That means their audiences will be very mobile."


Published 21 August, 2006 by Richard Maven

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