Friday, April 5, 2013

Impressions of Netvibes

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my search for an alternative to Google Reader, which eventually led me to Netvibes. Having used it a fair bit, I think I'm ready to share my reactions.


I'm very comfortable using Netvibes on my PC. My subscription is to the free service. There's a fee-based premium service that I think is targeted at commercial users, but the free version is fine for me. On the desktop, I use it in Firefox, but I tested it with Chrome and the interface unsurprisingly seems to be identical.

You can login the old fashioned way (email address and password) or via Facebook. I'd like to see a general OpenID login option, or at least buttons to log in through Google+ and/or Twitter, but that's a quibble. As with many browser-based applications, once logged in I stay logged in for extended periods, provided I load the page periodically. (I assume this is refreshing a cookie. Cookie-averse users may need to authenticate more regularly.) 

As I previously mentioned, import of my Google Reader feeds and folders was easy. I showed a couple of pictures of the interface in my previous post, so I won't repeat those. Here are some things I like about the desktop interface.
  • You can show all new posts, posts from uncategorized feeds, posts from all feeds in a particular category, or posts from just one feed.
  • You can show all posts (ones you've read using a "faded" font) or just new posts.
  • You can read the post (or at least the initial portion of it, depending on the feed) inside Netvibes with a single click, or open the source document in a new browser window/tab with a single click. (The former marks the post as read, but the latter does not.)
  • You can mark a single post or a subset of the displayed posts read by checking them off (one click per post) and then clicking a button (so n+1 clicks to mark n posts). You can also mark all displayed posts read with two clicks.
  • Similarly, you can mark one, some or all posts as unread, with the same number of clicks. This is not something I do often, but occasionally I do mark a forum post unread so that I will come back to it.


I also use Netvibes on a 10" Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) tablet. Netvibes currently does not have any native mobile applications, but for a tool designed to browse online posts, I'm quite happy to work within a web browser. On any mobile device, you point your browser at; the server detects your device type and apparently customizes the interface accordingly. The interface is almost the same as the desktop interface, so I'll just point out the differences.
  • In the "reader view" (which is what I use exclusively; I can't recall if the "widget view" is available on the tablet), a menu of categories appears on the left and posts for the category you have selected appear on the right. The right-hand pane has a border at the top identifying the category. On the mobile version, this sometimes does not update when you switch categories: you see the posts for the new category but the header for the previous one. This is not exactly a high priority bug.
  • As best I can tell, there is no option in the mobile interface to mark a post unread. This is problematic for me for two reasons. First, my hand-eye coordination being what it is, I sometimes tap the wrong subject line and read a post that I intended to leave for later. Second, when I'm screening posts from sources (weeding out what I consider to be the "chaff"), I may have to read a post to determine that it is in fact "wheat" (something I want to keep for later). Both the mobile and desktop versions provide a "Read later" category, and it is easy to add a post I've just read into that category. "Read later" is not the same as keeping the post unread in the original category, though. The original categorization is lost when the post goes into "Read later", and in any case "out of sight is out of mind".
  • The option to select a subset of the displayed posts and mark them read does not seem to exist in the mobile version (at least on Android). I can mark all displayed posts read (two taps total), or read them one at a time (two taps per post). Again, when I'm looking at a forum, there are entire threads that I want to skip. On the mobile platform, that's 2n taps to get rid of n posts.
  • There's a built-in menu to share a post. It has only three options: email, Facebook and Twitter. The desktop version has the same three options, but on the desktop I have no use for them, particularly as I never share anything to Facebook. On the desktop, it's one click to open the original source, then one click with the HootSuite hootlet to share to Twitter, one click of the Google+ bookmarklet to share to Google+, or two clicks to use the Firefox "email link" feature. Similarly, if I have Netvibes open in the default Android browser, it's one tap to load the original source document and then two taps to access the browser's sharing menu. That said, I have to give Netvibes a thumbs-up for the Twitter option on Android. Like other applications, if I select the Twitter option it gives me a choice of opening the tweet in any of the installed web browsers or in the HootSuite Android app (which I have installed). Unlike every other application I've used, where that last option silently fails, Netvibes really does open the tweet in HootSuite.

So, to summarize, I'm quite comfortable using Netvibes on the desktop and fairly comfortable using it on Android. I'd be quite happy on Android if they would add an unread option and a way to mark a selected subset of posts read.


  1. Paul, didn't you, at one time, use to read RSS through Thunderbird? May be I am mistaken ...

    1. No, you have a good memory. At one time I did use Tbird for RSS. I can't recall if I had a way to sync feeds between different PCs so that I didn't find myself reading the same things twice. The reason I did not consider going back to it when Google Reader's EOL was announced is that there's currently no Android port of Tbird.

      There is an Android port of Firefox (which I have). There are RSS reader add-ons for desktop Firefox, but I'm not sure if any are also available for Firefox Mobile. That said, you can read RSS feeds through "Live Bookmarks" in both, and my understanding is that Firefox Sync should sync live bookmarks. So, if I get some free time, I may test that out.


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