Any portal in a storm
Fred Wilson is a sharp and seasoned fellow, and The Browser would think twice, even three times, before publicly disagreeing with him. And there was much about his recent discussion of the coming deportalization of the Web that made us nod our heads. Wilson's argument is a variation on the long-tail thesis; i.e., that the future of the Web will emphasize tons of little sites rather than a few huge ones.

Still, there were two places in the text where we stumbled. One is generic: woe to him who predicts the downfall of portals. Trust us; we've been there. (More than once, actually, though thankfully some links don't survive.) The fact is that the really big, multifunction sites on the Web like Yahoo, MSN.com and aol.com have, overall, proven themselves very resourceful in adapting to users' needs. (And to his credit, Wilson followed up his initial remarks, saying that "deportalization" was a poor way of describing what he was talking about, since he doesn't think portals are going away anytime soon.)

The other hiccup was this:
I don't have the data to prove it, but my guess is if you looked at the percent of all pageviews that are generated each month, a much smaller portion exist on the top 10 properties today than in 2000, at the height of the first Internet era.

This just didn't strike us as right. And, helpfully, Read/WriteWeb commissioned some statistics from the Web analytic firm Compete that confirm what we suspected. According to their numbers, the top ten domains account for 40% of Web page views in 2006, up from 31% in 2001.

Of course, just because there are statistics doesn't mean the argument is settled. One commentor on Read/WriteWeb dismissed page views as a yardstick, noting: "1) Using GMail generates 1 pageview no matter how many messages I read and write; 2) Using MySpace generates a pageview if I sneeze."

And that raises another point of contention: while MySpace and Facebook, neither of which existed in 2001, are in Compete's top ten domains today, does it make sense to call them portals? Not to the long-tail devotees, who argue that the social networking sites represent content at its most micro level.

We disagree. If MySpace users are spending tons of time on that site to contact friends, find music, and read news and opinion, that's essentially what people were doing on portals in 2001. What would be really helpful in this debate would be some more robust definitions. Keith Teare from Edgeio likes a mountain vs. foothills analogy, which is nice, but his argument that the foothills will overtake the mountains strikes us as geologically dubious; plus he clutters his ten-point list with a bunch of jargon that seems more like advocacy than analysis.

What's your view? Should MySpace and Facebook be thought of in the same category as Yahoo and MSN.com?
Posted by Jim Ledbetter 3:02 PM 8 Comments comment | Add a Comment

Part of the problem is the metric being used in this debate is the pageview. As has been much discussed recently, that metric needs some updating in this Ajax-driven world we now live in.

Regardless, rather than mountains vs. foothills, or the end of portals, I see it more as the 'suburbanization' of the Web. Here are some more of my thoughts on The Suburban Web.
Posted By Jarid, New York, NY : 5:19 PM  

What's your view? Should MySpace and Facebook be thought of in the same category as Yahoo and MSN.com?

I don't think myspace and facebook, or any social site, should be considered a portal in the context of aol.com, msn.com, or yahoo. Those portals are launch points to other places, like the hub of a wheel with the spokes going to other destinations. Social sites seem more like the end point - details of someone/something; the end of the spoke.

Maybe this is a better description: Portals are like cities - the downtown, tall building- the core; the social sites are the suburbs - small houses, communities...
Posted By Rob, Arlington, VA : 5:19 PM  

The suburb is an interesting metaphor, has much to offer itself.

It may only, however, work in an Anglo-American context. During the French riots last year, I was struck by how the "suburb" in America connotes relative wealth, privilege, living space, and personal safety. Whereas the "suburbs" of Paris that exploded in riots are a shorthand for a squalid, cramped existence among concrete monoliths, dominated by unemployed immigrants. It doesn't exactly refute your point, just raising the issue. Good metaphors are hard to come by.
Posted By Anonymous : 5:40 PM  

"Should MySpace and Facebook be thought of in the same category as Yahoo and MSN.com?"

I don't think so myself, to me they are completely different beasts, catering to very different needs.

I reckon at least 3/4 people that visit sites like yahoo, msn or google do so simply to search for information, or to window shop - for example find out how much something costs, and what people think of it. And even they differ from each other in various respects.

With Yahoo and its store trust scheme you are more likely to follow through with an actual purchase, or check out air fares, before going to the cheapest carrier�s own website and getting the ticket for the same price minus Yahoo�s fees. So I trust Yahoo�s stores, and I use their travel section for information purposes, then Google�s search engine if I don�t know the URL of the cheapest airline�s website.

I don't know about you, but if dodgy internet pharmacies can get a side/top Google ad, the whole lot of them don't particularly shout "trust me". On the other hand I find Google's search results more relevant when it comes to finding out information about a product or project I'm working on.

With MSN I would say people are more interested in news and media related information.

Sure all 3 offer much more than just search � but most people tend to use each one for a specific purpose.. as well as driving instructions.

MySpace, I think, is more of a community thing, and sure it has search capabilities, but the searches performed on such sites trend towards interacting with the community that contributes to that site. It can do other things, but I don't think many of the people using that site do much besides interact with each other - and even when they do use it to find information, music, videos, etc, its usually because of the chat their involved with. e.g. "did you see that new vid from xyz, look it up and check it out.." or perhaps finding some funny media clip to show your online friends/family.

And I don�t think one particular site is better than another, they all offer something.. even MSN..
Posted By Andy, Anchorage, AK : 5:40 PM  

Why would anyone care one way or the other?

The users of any site only care if they find what they are looking.
Posted By Jack Martin Sea Girt NJ : 7:40 PM  

"Should MySpace and Facebook be thought of in the same category as Yahoo and MSN.com?"

I do not agree to it. The demographic userbase would suggest that it is mostly the teens and ppl in their mid-20s to late 20s using the social networking sites. MSN, Yahoo and AOL cater to a wider demographic and are being used by a wider demographic. If MySpace starts providing people services as Yahoo or MSN, then it would probably could be in the same category.
Posted By Premal, King of Prussia, PA : 1:54 PM  

I think portals will exist as long as there are underserved niches. Just think of a portal as a small town store. Sure, you can go to AOL, which is the web equivalent of a WalMart, or you could go to a cool boutique, where you'll find unique items that the majors won't and can't bother to carry.
Posted By Jackie, Brooklyn, NY : 4:24 AM  

MySpace is not a portal. It is millions of individual websites. It would be like saying Blogger is a portal or Typepad is a portal. Also, equating a 'domain' to a portal is incorrect.

Google's home page could be considered a Search portal because there is only one place you can go to conduct a Google search (unless you embed a Google Search in your page, of course, but we are talking portals here.). Yahoo's front page is a portal but Yahoo's email service is not. Each user accessing Yahoo email is getting and creating their own content and you can access your information in many different ways without visiting www.yahoo.com.

Usage of 'distributed' services is on the rise and use of 'centralized' services is on the decline. One reason YouTube succeeds is because they let site owners display 'content' on their websites. The YouTube front page is a portal but you do not need the portal to see YouTube content. In the past the portal would have hoarded its content. Now you have to distribute the content and thereby flatten the 'mountains' and raise the foot hills. Lesser known publishers gain more traffic because the content is being distributed to them and there is less reason for users to migrate to the portals.

Don't confuse distributed content with Peer-to-peer technology. There can still be centralized repositories of distributed content. The key issue is how do you monetize distributed content vs. centralized content. That is still being figured out. Many people believe that the publishers will control the monetization and you see moves related to that in the combination of blogs, podcasts and small news sites into 'networks' to help gain and leverage the growing power of individual publishers.

Finally, the big boys see this happening. This is why Microsoft created live.com and Yahoo (and Google) is working on widgets and any other technology that can help the to push out their content and services. The only problem is that now the publishers can choose which content to publish so it is not guaranteed that the big boys will win.

I think we will see big changes in 2007.
Posted By D. Kersten Hazlet, NJ : 3:48 PM  

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.