Questions About Portals
By Cory Kleinschmidt and
Andrew Goodman - ©
What is a web portal?
2. What came before portals?
3. How did web portals get started?
4. How do Web browsers fit in?
5. How does Internet access fit in?
6. What features do consumer web portals have?
7. Where can I find statistics about the leading portals?
8. Why are so many of the portals' offerings free?
9. What is Traffick?
10. What led you to start this site?
11. I don't use a portal. Aren't they going the
way of the dodo?
12. Aren't there several types of portal? Which is which?
13. What is a vertical portal, or vortal?
14. What about Enterprise Resource Portals or corporate
15. What are B2B portals?
16. Where can I go for more information?
is a web portal?
often the first page your web browser loads when you start up
your web browser, Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer,
"web portal" began to be used to describe mega-sites such as Yahoo,
Excite, MSN, Netscape Netcenter and AOL because many users used
them as a "starting point" or "entry point" for their web surfing.
The term "search engine" had become inadequate to describe the
breadth of the offerings of these leading Internet destinations,
although search and navigation are still pivotal to most people's
online experience. (AOL is a bit different: it's always been an
Internet access provider in addition to being a network of proprietary
Internet content and services.)
consumer web portals are still the most heavily-visited
sites on the Internet. Yahoo, AOL and MSN are the giants but the
next seven or eight after that are significant as well. All command
stock valuations in the billions. AOL Time Warner is worth several
hundred billion dollars.
Tim Berners-Lee developed a vision
for the World Wide Web as a globally-accessible network of documents
written in hypertext or HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). Given
the difficulty of sharing networked information, this was proposed
as an easier way to structure, lay out, and navigate documents using
a common format. It was designed so that layouts would be more or
less consistent from most any networked computer with any type of
display. Before the web, there were no Internet "links" as we conceive
of them today. The HTML specification has gone through several transformations.
It's part of a family of "markup languages" known as SGML. HTML
may eventually give way to XML (eXtensible Markup Language). There
are many other languages and complex programming issues that have
arisen as more tasks and functions are being performed entirely
online. HTML was originally meant for structuring text documents.
People are now watching streaming video and doing their banking
online. We've obviously come a long way in a short period of time.
In 1994, Jim
Clark and Mark Andreessen founded Netscape Communications in order
to commercialize the Mosaic web browser, initially developed by
Andreessen and others at the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications at the University
of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The web browsing tool was wildly
popular, and the growth of web "pages" and "sites" began to take
off. Netscape distributed its browser for free over the Internet,
ensuring ubiquity. It went public in 1995 with a lofty market valuation,
leaving observers wondering how they did it and what it all meant.
It should be
recalled that dialup (non-Internet) computer services, from small
bulletin board services (BBS's) to larger proprietary networks such
as Compuserve, had existed for some time before that. This is how
AOL got off to its shaky start in 1989. It came to embrace the Internet
much later on. The appeal of the BBS's was always the sharing of
common interests, messaging, chatting, "flaming," and flirting,
often in an environment of anonymity and even intrigue. This remains
at the core of many people's impulse to log on today. Email, instant
messaging, and topical message boards are still the "stickiest"
of Internet applications.
Jerry Yang and David Filo, working in a small trailer office, began
to experiment with a searchable directory of web sites, categorized
by topic. The web directory was born! In late 1993, this was simply
known as "Jerry Yang's Guide to WWW." Housed on Stanford University
servers, it proved popular with the first web users. How else would
you find the good stuff? They soon found backers for their project,
and an audacious name for their company: Yahoo! (Some executives
at the company still hold titles like Chief Yahoo! and Permission
Marketing Yahoo!.) Their last financing before going public in 1996
valued the company at a cool $300 million. It seemed like market
euphoria - surely a sign that the economy was overheated! - but
Yahoo! (and the economy) continued to roll throughout the 1990's.
Today it's a global Internet brand, and enjoys a valuation above
$80 billion even on a bad day. This may explain why venture capitalists
can afford to back a few duds.
comes attention. A lot of people wanted to know about companies
like this. Maybe this explains the cult-like following of investment
discussion site Silicon Investor, launched in 1995 by
Kansas natives Brad and Jeff Dreyer, and acquired by Go2Net in 1998.
Today, sites like Raging Bull
(now part of Altavista) and yes, Yahoo's own financial discussion
message boards, outstrip Silicon Investor in quantity, if not quality,
of discussions. The first Yahoo-related post on Silicon Investor,
in April 1996, opined that "Yahoo doesn't have ANY intrinsic value,
except for the name."
Yahoo, other Internet search engines and directories, like Altavista,
Excite, Open Text, Magellan, Infoseek, and Lycos also became popular
and debate raged (as it does today) over which one was best. To
get on the map, a search engine generally had to pay for featured
status on the Netscape browser or Netscape home page, since few
people had heard of a search engine. In the early days, a common
place to find out about these new Internet search tools was still
the resource pages maintained by university computing centers or
resource librarians. Commercial uses of the Internet were still
anathema to the community.
Most of the
above search companies have benefited in some way by the explosive
popularity of the Web. All of these sites started off as merely
search engines or directories, but when they began experiencing
page views numbering in the millions each day, most realized they
could use their popularity by offering more features that would
keep people at their sites once the user got done searching for
something. The portals would group similar subject together to entice
users to check them out.
Fueled by lofty
stock valuations, portal companies began purchasing other companies
for their technology, content, or unique business models, as Yahoo
did when it purchased the Internet white pages companyFour11,
which allows the user to look up addresses, phone numbers, e-mail
addresses and the like. In 1996, every such deal prompted oohing
and aahing, but by 1999, most of the larger Internet companies had
become capable of financing deals of breathtaking size. Go2Net
and Lycos are amongst those who have grown quickly
through a blistering pace of acquisitions. Others, like Infoseek (now part of Disney's Go Network)
and Snap (now part of NBC Internet),
sold out to major media conglomerates in order to accelerate their
brings about a need for sharpened analysis of the industry heavyweights
as well as those seeking to become heavyweights or be acquired by
them. It seems that no quality Internet property can stay independent
for long, and pundits nowadays comb the lists of the top 1,000 web
sites, wondering which deal will get made next. The AOL Time Warner
merger seems like a logical culmination of the ascent of new media
companies to the pinnacle of global economic power: the new economy,
with AOL founder Steve Case as its mascot, outflanks the old. Will
this be the deal to end all deals, or can we expect more of the
Navigator, for many users, defaulted to the Netscape home page unless
they took the trouble to change their default page. This seems to
make it doubly impressive that Yahoo and Excite succeeded. Web surfers
had to make a conscious decision to make Yahoo their "home page"
or "start page." Netscape relaunched its home page as a more full-featured
"portal" called Netcenter in 1999, shortly before the company was
acquired by AOL. Microsoft Internet Explorer, the leading web browser
today and the main subject of the protracted antitrust proceedings
against Microsoft, defaults to Microsoft's portal, MSN. Today, MSN
offers a strong challenge to AOL and Yahoo, but Netcenter holds
only a relatively insignificant niche position in the scheme of
things. In short, the browser companies have taken advantage of
their captive audiences to ensure that users are not just using
their web browsing software, but also using their portal.
high-speed Internet access are an important part of this picture.
There has always been something of a dichotomy between Internet
users who have had generic dialup access through an Internet Service
Provider which only provided access, and those who have belonged
to a service such as AOL which offered access and a full slate of
online services and content in tandem. Today, most access companies
are working on deriving revenue from the content or content distribution
side of the equation. So, the cable @Home service acquired the Excite
portal company; the UK's Freeserve is both an access company and
a portal company; Canada's Sympatico (owned by Bell Canada Enterprises,
Inc.) is both a dialup service and a portal; Compuserve, owned by
AOL, offers its own selection of online services and content; and
newly-merged ISP's Mindspring and Earthlink offer users a portal
or start page through a variety of content partnerships, notably
with Lycos. It's a complex picture. Users can and should decide
for themselves what is the best stuff on the Internet, no matter
who their Internet Service Provider may be, or where their software
may take them at first. Access providers, on the other hand, rely
on their users sticking close to the default offerings provided
to them when they set up the service.
a wide range of customization options and functionality including:
Internet search and navigation; email; customized news, weather,
sports, and horoscopes; planners, calendars, and contact managers;
bookmark managers to save favorite web sites; real-time chat; message
boards; original content on every imaginable topic; shopping; free
home pages; "clubs" which function as makeshift intranets; small
business services; and much more. Increasingly, major portals are
seeing to it that vital content such as news, stock prices, and
messages can be accessed with wireless devices and phones.
web traffic and usage measurement services are Media
Metrix, PC Data Online,
WebSideStory, Alexa, and Nielsen Netratings. You can also have a look
at Cyberatlas for more general statistics. Consulting concerns like
Forrester Research, IDC, Boston Consulting, The Yankee Group, Jupiter
Communications, and many traditional investment firms are also good
sources for a range of research reports. Traffick intends to provide
handy guide to portal-related statistics and research reports in
the near future.
A lot of
individual users say they start their day with a blank web page,
or make their own start page with their favorite links. But let's
face it, the numbers say it all. The portal
sites have the users in spades.
response, and a misleading one, is to suggest that these services
are advertising-supported. That oversimplifies matters. Portals,
like all emerging companies in the technology field, come with
a range of innovative business models and expect to earn revenue
from a variety of revenue streams. An attentive, registered base
of users is seen as a valuable asset. On average, a loyal user
will spend a certain amount on e-commerce, emerging branded services
like online banking, or other services. And of course there is
always that advertising. Internet analysts suggest that the larger
and more influential Internet companies act as "platforms" for
e-commerce. Steve Harmon
has compared AOL to a "digital nation." Many Internet companies
deliberately resist revenue-generating opportunities so that their
growth in market share is not impeded. But eventually the most
successful companies will have many revenue opportunities which
aren't apparent in today's balance sheets. Yahoo, for example,
is now highly profitable after several years of losing money.
Due to its size and strong brand, it's likely to become highly
profitable in the future as there are likely many unrealized revenue
opportunities associated with its vast audience.
revenue models include the following: banner advertising -- x
amount per 1,000 banner views (or impressions) is typical; hefty
fees from advertisers or partner retailers who are "featured"
on the main start page; fee-based premium services (Silicon Investor,
Go2Net's investment site, charges $200 for a lifetime membership
though much of its content is free); direct marketing campaigns
(Xoom or Yahoo may email you with product offers if you give them
permission); keyword-based advertising on search engines (you
pay x amount to have your company's ad banner to appear next to
the Metacrawler search results for "whole grain cereals," for
example); and the list goes on.
of portals is becoming extremely complex and difficult even for
qualified analysts to fathom. A large number of customers has always
been seen to be the goal of the "portal wars," as the companies
involved believed that they could "monetize the eyeballs" later.
With the global expansion of these audiences, the rollout of high-speed
DSL, cable, and wireless services, convergence with television broadcasting,
and megamergers such as the AOL Time Warner deal, portal companies
will continue to grow and evolve, and it will take serious expertise
to understand what makes them tick.
the Guide to Portals, was launched on September 1, 1999 with a
plan to offer the most comprehensive analysis and coverage of
the major consumer web portals, and that is still our goal. We
picked the name Traffick because (a) it seems catchy; (b) the
URL was available; and (c) it's a pun relating to two aspects
of the new economy: the all-important measurement of "website
traffic" (page views or user sessions), which is immense at the
leading portal sites, and the fact that the major portals depend
heavily on e-commerce (the trafficking of goods and services)
on a massive scale.
led you to start this site?
are a vital part of the online experience of hundreds of millions
around the globe, and the underlying companies are the world's
new economic heavyweights, spanning the worlds of technology,
retail, and mass broadcast media. We felt their importance was
being downplayed by much of the media, and their role and function
often being misrepresented.
won't find it easy to get anyone to invest in your idea for
"the next AOL," that simply underlines the fact that companies
like AOL have become enormously successful, perhaps prohibitively
so for the small startup.
that there was plenty of coverage of cyber-culture, programming,
and even search engines, but very little coverage of the many
other things that the search engine companies began to do. At
first, we thought that someone should offer comparisons of portal
features. In addition to that, we think it's important that
someone tries to make sense of it all, and to provide handy
news digests, insights, and discussion about various aspects
of the portal wars. While a good deal of our material is useful
to beginners, much of our audience is made up of business and
thing we noticed in 1999 was that everyone and his brother came
up with the idea of being a "portal to portals." All but a handful
of these sites were just lists of links! We wanted to do a lot
more than just slap together a few links.
today is to give the Traffick audience an opportunity to interact
in a more meaningful way. That's why we hope you'll join our moderated discussion list.
Just send a blank email to email@example.com
and go from there. Look for more interesting community building
from us in the future.
like it or not, the term "portal" is going strong. The rapid growth
of new ways of leveraging the Internet for communal and corporate
purposes has spawned at least four common meanings for the term
portal. In addition to (1) major consumer web portals like Yahoo,
we're witnessing a blistering pace of growth in (2) corporate
portals or Enterprise Resource Portals; (3) vertical, affinity,
or niche portals; and (4) industry or B2B portals.
or niche portals are what we might have called web sites
in the past. Today, however, certain category-leading web sites
in a given topical category, or catering to a given demographic,
are such significant players that many call them portals. The
list of very popular and economically significant vertical portals
is growing rapidly. Examples include ivillage (aimed at women);
guru.com (for independent professionals); and Boatscape (for boat
enthusiasts, of course!). We're planning to build a directory
portals (and these are now big business, with portals being launched
to cater to specific ethnic groups, specific age groups, alternative
lifestyles, religions, and other groups which are perceived to
form a community or market) are now being called affinity
portals by some analysts. The terminology isn't set in
stone, but what is clear is that "vertical" content, community,
and commerce seem to enjoy increasing favor in the marketplace.
In some ways,
we've come full circle, and major web companies have begun to
tap into the shared interests that made a much smaller number
of people dial in to computer networks in the 1980's and early
1990's. About.com, which has
now cracked the top ten in the rankings of the most heavily-trafficked
web properties, bills itself as the world's largest "network of
vertical sites led by expert human guides." Notice, then, that
in this case, About.com's 700 "verticals" are highlighted, but
they are being called a "network." The notion of a loose confederacy
of relatively independent "states" under the same banner makes
a lot of sense. In this instance, portal may not be the most descriptive
term. Suite 101 is another
popular "community of communities" led by volunteer editors.
Much of the
buzz in 2000 is about Enterprise Resource Portals (ERP's),
Enterprise Information Portals (EIP), or simply
Corporate Portals. We've also heard terms like
knowledge management portals, or IT portals, being used. This,
we dare say, is the evolution of the intranet (and also what was
once called the "extranet"?). If many corporations are like small
nations, it does help to have all employees on the same page,
and able to access a vast range of functionality, knowledge, events,
news, etc. depending on their access levels. Company managers
and CIO's are today full of questions about the best solutions
and strategies to build the latest generation ERP's for their
purposes. Ironically, such products, albeit without the web-based
functionality, have been around for quite some time, and it's
only recently that the word "portal" started being used to describe
them. Arguably it was Open Text (recall that the Open Text Index
was a leading consumer Internet search engine until it withdrew
from the competition in that space in 1996) which launched the
first newer-generation, web-functional, full-featured knowledge
management and workflow tool for corporate intranets (Open Text
Livelink). Today, hundreds of solutions exist, with larger companies
like SAP, Plumtree, Epicentric, and many others claiming the lion's
share of the business, but with many nimbler or more focused players
such as Brio Technologies trying desperately to keep up with the
demand for latest-generation knowledge management solutions for
a mobile, web-enabled age. Why "portal" and not "intranet"? We
can't say precisely, but perhaps intranet sounds too insular and
soon: For the ultimate resource about ERP's and
corporate portals, check out aboutportals.com.
Traffick is proud to be a partner of this important resource.
The site provides a range of analysis and comparisons for managers
and CIO's seeking answers about what solutions may be most appropriate
or industry portals are in the corporate sector, like ERP's,
and are "vertical," like vertical or affinity portals. But here
we see something a little bit different from either of these: places
where particular industries can go for information sharing, and
most importantly, the completion of transactions. This is a relatively
new phenomenon but possibly the most significant one in economic
terms. B2B or industry portals can act as real engines for the new
economy, and are acting as a catalyst in making old economies new.
Imagine the reduced friction of sourcing and buying supplies and
parts in a particular industry. Imagine suppliers of raw materials
bidding to sell their products to manufacturers through an auction
process. Imagine a major pizza company automating the procurement
of flour, tomato sauce, and pepperoni from local suppliers through
an Internet-based bidding system rather than the more complicated
methods used in the past. If people with similar interests or demographic
features might have "affinities" and a willingness to buy consumer
goods from particular advertisers, imagine how much people in the
same profession will have to share, and how much commerce might
be transacted through these channels. This is the promise of the
B2B or industry portal. It is reshaping the world as we speak. An
early mover in the field of building industry-specific portals was
a company called VerticalNet. Companies which can take on the function
of maintaining an industry portal stand to profit handsomely, particularly
if they retain an ownership stake in the web site, or charge a transaction
fee for business done through the portal.
trying to improve this resource. Contact the firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions
and feedback, or explore the site for our various articles and
reports. The growing community of readers is also a great resource.
As a question on our forum, join our moderated news &
discussion list (the Traffick Weekly), or subscribe to our monthly Traffick
links to the most vital resources for portal aficionados in two
ways: (1) in our own online bookmarks collection built using the
Favorites utility (this is free; you can sign up and use this
to manage your own collections online and share them with others
as you please); and (2) in a more conventional directory of links,
which we're currently putting together.
intended as exhaustive catalogs of web sites, but as a selective
listing of only the most incredibly important resources relating
to portals... resources like Search Engine Watch and a couple of
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