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Traffick - The Guide to Portals.
© 2000

Building a Portal? Go2Net Wants Your Business
by Andrew Goodman - June 3, 2000

Major consumer portal company Go2Net gets down with other people's portals.

You can almost see the lightbulb going on in the braintrust at Go2Net.

"Let's get this straight. We spent over a year redesigning a world class consumer portal, forging partnerships, and figuring out which cobrands work and how to deploy them. Now, industry associations, large enterprises, and media companies around the world are going crazy trying to find someone to build a portal for them. And look at the companies they're hiring! Do many of them offer best-of-breed solutions? Why don't we build their portals for them? We did it once, we have all that expertise, we hired all those cutting-edge technical people and product managers, now let's make it pay off by doing it again and again!"

And thus the Go2Net Private Label Portal (PLP) was born.

Here's the thinking. Companies wanting to build their own custom portals today have a dizzying array of choices before them. Many are turning to consultants and custom portal-builders to help them to build the right combination of robust functionality and content aggregation. But when it comes to accomplishing these tasks, not all providers are alike. Many so-called portal solutions seem like pretty poor value for the money. Unless the builder is on the cutting edge, they are likely to be reinventing the wheel and learning about the ins and outs of customization, cobranding, and content aggregation as they go along.

Big-ticket clients are probably going to be looking for a portal builder they can trust. So far, that trust has been placed in business-focused portal building companies such as Epicentric, Hummingbird, VerticalNet, SAP, or any of 100 others.

But where does, say, a major ISP, or a major city site, turn when it wants to go portal? Many will have their in-house staff take care of the job. Those staffers may discover on their own that they can blend custom information with more general information licensed from info-infrastructure providers like Infospace, Looksmart, and Reuters. But given the likelihood that this process will be time-consuming and over budget, and possibly result in a substandard result, wouldn't it make sense to outsource the whole project?

So far, that has rarely been the case. Some ISP's have forged major content partnerships, to be sure (Lycos, for example, is a major partner with Earthlink and Canada's Sympatico). But the ISP has typically kept its portal people around to design, negotiate, plan, and maintain the portal.

Go2Net thinks it has a better way: don't reinvent the wheel. I'm reminded a bit of the strategy pursued by a company like Dell as it moved more into the services business. Companies already used Dell and trusted Dell, and over time, wanted Dell to take care of more tasks for them. But maybe an even closer analogy comes to mind in thinking about a recent comment by a Looksmart staffer that their business model is built on the principle of "build once, sell many times." Looksmart can leverage the huge investment in its technology and operations by selling somewhat modified custom directory services to cobrand partners. Similarly, Go2Net hopes that it will be able to capitalize on the expertise and trusted brand it has already developed by selling its custom portal building services to private label partners, many times over.

The Go2Net PLP is custom work, offering any combination of the client's own data and more general consumer-portal-style features. According to Steve Goldberg, Senior VP of the Consumer Division at Go2Net, many companies begin with a trial-and-error process in portal design before deciding that they want a truly top-quality, highly customized solution.

The best of breed consumer portal, at least as far as brand recognition is concerned, is Yahoo! But Yahoo, at the moment, isn't hiring out their people to help others get into the portal biz. But Go2Net is.

The advantage to the client, according to Goldberg, is that the client's own private brand is all that the user will see. "For example, if you were Campbell's Soup and you wanted to build the soup portal, then it would be under the Campbell's Soup label."

But do consumer portal companies really understand how to build someone else's portal, particularly if it is in a niche requiring custom data? That's a misconception Goldberg wants to clear up. "There's nothing particularly impossible about building a portal," he argues. A major consumer portal company has the resources to understand the process of customization, partnerships, and content aggregation. Moreover, they have to "rev" their products, stay fresh, and offer what Goldberg calls "best of breed navigation." While legacy intranet builders have begun to build custom portals for clients, they might be less attuned to the unique mix of custom and general content that a portal user will require.

The talk of vertical portals has been overblown, implies Goldberg. Going too "heavily vertical" and locking users into a very restrictive, focused system will have "employees wandering down the hall to check out the Netscape portal like they always do." Go2Net's Private Label Portal would typically combine custom data with the "consumer modules" similar to those seen at the main Go2Net site.

Lately it seems as if the focus on vertical content and enterprise-specific portals been overdone. When does "focus" mask a lack of competency or flexibility in portal design? As Goldberg points out, building a portal isn't particularly impossible ("vertical," "horizontal," or otherwise), so shouldn't the outsourcing choice come down to who can build you a great portal, rather than just some company's claim to be good at building "verticals"?


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