Monitoring a Niche With a Personal Dashboard: Joining a Niche Conversation, Pt 6

A while back, I discussed determining the top blogs in your chosen niche. Once you’ve decided what these blogs are, you have a few choices in terms of monitoring new content:

  1. Feed reader.
  2. Personal dashboard via a web 2.0 portal.
  3. Custom dashboard via a web 2.0 application builder or some other means.

This article focuses on the last two choices and covers the following:

  1. Netvibes customizable web portal.
  2. Sprout Builder Flash-based rich media content creation.
  3. Popurls-like clone using a free custom WordPress solution.

Below, each section discusses the pros and cons of a given solution.

Netvibes Dashboard

Netvibes is a web 2.0 portal that offers “tiles” containing a variety of information, including weather, email inbox summaries, Facebook integration, predefined news feeds, top videos, web search and more. You can also create a fresh “tab” and add other tiles. That means you can create a Niche Dashboard by creating a tab and adding several news feed tiles. That is, each tile would contain items from the RSS feed of the top blogs in your niche.

The diagram below provides an example Netvibes dashboard that uses a variety of feeds from Blogging and SEO blogs. (I monitor this niche for my articles here at Performancing.) My real Netvibes dashboard actually has three columns and many more rows, but I’m only showing a partial screen capture.


  • Relatively fast to build
  • Easy to move feed “tiles” around (each tile contains items from one feed).
  • Each tile tells you how many items that you have unread.


  • The positioning of a block lower down the page is at the mercy of the height of the block above. That is, there’s no absolute positioning of blocks, making a Netvibes dashboard potential looking like a big mess of unmatched feed tiles.
  • The feed tiles appear to be updated quite frequently, which is unnecessary and a drain on the web server resources of each site/blog.

This solution is good for monitoring small numbers of blogs.

Sprout Builder Dashboard

Sprout Builder is an in-beta web 2.0 application that lets you quickly build rich Flash-based content with a variety of choices for presentation.

The Sprout below shows only six feed tiles, though it could be reconfigured with smaller tiles and a wider/taller presentation. (Note: This is a functioning Sprout, and you can use the scrollbars to browse through the items in each feed tile. You can also click on item headlines and a new browser tab/ window will appear with the source page in question.)


  • Relatively easy to build Flash interface (provided you are in the beta program).
  • Feed tiles are adjustable the size you want, producing a more appealing dashboard than for Netvibes.
  • Feed tiles can be positioned however you like.


  • Not a lot of room to work in, in the Sprout Builder interface, unless you have a large computer screen.
  • The larger your Sprout (height, width), the longer it potentially takes to load the components.
  • Feeds are updated either “never” or “every five minutes”.

Sprout Builder is still in beta, but this solution might be good if you want to combine feed tiles with multimedia content.

Popurls-Style Dashboard

If you’re familiar with Popurls, you know that that their interface allows for very easy viewing of the titles of items in the news feeds of numerous sites. Ericulous offers a free Popurls clone based on WordPress. The package includes a custom WP theme and the necessary plugins.

I’ve previously used the Ericulous package to create (picture in a partial screen snap below). It does not have any SEO blog feeds added to it because of how tedious it is to update the dashboard. This is primarily because this solution is code-based, whereas the two solutions above offer a visual interface.


  • More control over how many items appear in each feed block.
  • Offers more than just feed tiles, including YouTube videos, Flickr mini-gallery, and space for advertising.
  • With a bit of effort, the dashboard can be combined with a WordPress blog.


  • Very tedious to move feed tiles around.
  • The code is not yet robust, and flaky feeds will sometimes show an error in one or more tiles, depending on the file format a feed uses. (Atom and other non-RSS feed formats seem to cause the most trouble.)

I liked the Popurls clone solution a great deal at first, and used it to monitor multiple niches and my own batch of blogs. But because it’s such a pain to update a dashboard, I’m working on a more robust version. It’ll also be WP-based, and it’ll incorporate an area for blog posts and other features. An external list will supply the necesary feed URLs, and to reorder a feed block, just reorder the list. (Once this solution is done, it’ll be available free for Hive members only.)

Which of these solutions you pick for a niche monitor depends on your requirements and your patience for maintenance.

6 thoughts on “Monitoring a Niche With a Personal Dashboard: Joining a Niche Conversation, Pt 6

  1. Hey Candyman, thanks for alerting me to that possibility. I haven’t explored NV enough to know stuff like that.

  2. I use netvibes and i just set each tile in NV to only show the last three entries – that allows me to fit more onscreen and I can always hit the arrows to see the ones not showing

  3. Hey Raj, I left Mashable awhile ago. I won’t discuss the details as to my reason for leaving, but I am beyond happy that I left. About 4 or 5 writers left around the same time I did as well. I, however, left on my own. While it might not have been the smartest decision–I was getting a lot of recognition and making a nice amount of cash–it made me feel a lot better to leave there.

    I try not to hold grudges, but even I notice discussions of how bad the quality of content is at Mashable on forums and social media networks. It’s all about quantity, not quality, at Mashable. It really is showing the past few months.

  4. Kris: Thanks!
    JMowery: I thought your name was familiar. You’re not at Mashable anymore? Thanks for the links.

  5. This is such an obviously simple idea, but I never thought of it. Glad you did. Thanks for sharing.

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