a Portal? Go2Net Wants Your Business
Andrew Goodman - June 3, 2000
portal company Go2Net gets down with other people's portals.
You can almost
see the lightbulb going on in the braintrust at Go2Net.
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
And thus the
Private Label Portal (PLP) was born.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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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