The next portal – or the last portal?

Michael Arrington reports that Bear Stearns says Yahoo should get itself a social network because social networks are the next portal. Here is their entire PowerPoint.

It made me want to scream:

Portals are dead, damnit. They are the last vestige of old-media bigthink, of the misguided belief that media can corral us into masses and that we want to be treated like herds. The essential moral to the story of Yahoo’s decline is that it is a portal and portals don’t work. But here’s Bear Sterns looking for the next portal. Arrrggghhh.

You know what I’m going to say: The real question they should be asking is WWGD — what would Google do? I argued when Terry Semel was bounced that Yahoo should blow itself up and become the unportal, enabling anyone anywhere to take anything from Yahoo and put it on their own sites, feeding content — which Google doesn’t have — and advertising all around the web, becoming the great enabler of social interaction via content rather than buying Facebook. I hope Yahoo doesn’t buy Facebook — even though Bear Stearns now says the value is $5-6 billion (versus the $1 billion Mark Zuckerberg quite wisely turned down) — for I fear that like other things Yahoo buys, it would freezedry it in time, stifling innovation by bringing it into that corral.

The next portal? No, Yahoo is the last portal.

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  • http://www.broadstuff.com alan p

    I sort of Agree, in that Yahoo should not buy a SocNet, but from a different rationale

    Thing is, Yahoo has a lot of components that can (in theory) be re-arranged to builld a Portal 2.0, and a lot of users for them already.

    $6bn is serious money, you can do a lot with that apart from buying the latest SocNet with a potentially 2 year shelf life (2005 it was MySpace, who will it be in 2009?).

    Execution is the issue…

  • http://smoothspan.wordpress.com/ Bob Warfield

    “Portals are dead, damnit. They are the last vestige of old-media bigthink, of the misguided belief that media can corral us into masses and that we want to be treated like herds.”

    There is quite a lot of interesting discussion in the blogosphere that casts today’s social networks in a similar light. Their gist is that what’s wrong with them is they’re closed. Yes, you can add widgets ala Facebook, but aside from one’s ability to customize one’s little corner of the herd, aren’t they similar in some ways? How much mySpace or Facebook can you “explode and put on your own site?” This problem is exactly what the folks trying to build the latest round of competition for those sites want to address.

    Is the problem with the Yahoo’s of the world that they treat us like herds (because an awful lot of social networking is awfully close) or just that they’re so tragically yesterday and haven’t kept pace in almost any sense?

    And what of WWGD? The big G does seem to skip the herd mentality for the most part. Perhaps that’s their special insight and strength. Of course, one could argue that at this point the Internet itself is their herd. Some have called AdWords a necessary tax that adds little distinctive value to help a site get ahead.

  • http://deleted Tansley – addendum

    Non-issue, Jeff. Bob Warfield is right: the difference between Facebook and Yahoo’s 360 Beta is widgetising and even 360 has quite of bit of that in place already…bringing us back to square one.

    Don’t want to be part of the herd? Go to Google and link to something else. I do it all the time…

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  • Shakir Razak

    What is a portal???

    Is it where enough people spend enough of their time at one destination and multiple data is served to them there?

    I think the idea of creative destruction could be very successful/productive for yahoo, more so in the moribund period, but now they’re starting to wake up and get some fire in their belly; to break-apart, while it might be successful for a short time, it would run counter to the direction of the tech-industry as is currently from apple to google.

    When everything’s just a widget, what foundations are there? Big companies need breadth and control.

    The traditional idea of a portal does seem very out-dated now, but…where do you go for general financial info, who’s your email provider, where do you search, where are your photo’s -now answer those as a normal non-tech person who doesn’t want multiple log-in’s.

    And while we might all want to deplore the idea of being herds to be coralled, and doing so can cause damage to various creativity and dynamicism, fact is, most people do act as herds; and murdoch saw the potential in myspace when everyone else thought he was nuts -he’s never really followed the herd!

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  • Outtanames999

    By definition, what exists today will be obsolete tomorrow. We know this.

    Therefore, the question to ask is not which social network should I buy, but what media incarnation is coming next after blogs and networks? In other words, who will be the next to lead the Internet user around by the nose? Somebody knows the answer to this question. That’s who Yahoo needs to buy. If there is nobody and no answer, then the question to ask is, how can Yahoo create and drive the next media incarnation?

    Remember cassette tapes, 8 tracks and VHS? They are just yesterday’s media technology and became obsolete quickly. Now the same content is on DVD, some is on cable on demand, and eventually it will all migrate to the net. You know this, of course.

    So too, it is with portals and networks – they’re nothing more than media incarnations whose obsolescence is baked in.

    What amazes me is the uncanny similarity between the old Homestead and Geocities “free home page” (aka vanity sites) and today’s MySpace and Facebook pages. The only difference is available bandwith that allows these bloat boats to float. They are just the new Geocities with embedded links between other user’s pages. The network component is actually rather pathetic in terms of features and functionality, about as pathetic as the original Geocities and Homestead page editing features. Think about it. Would Yahoo buy Geocities today?

    As to exploding, are web sites the new shelf space? Is the ability to put my content or functionality “brand” on every web site on the net in the form of some so-called “useful” widget or gadget or nano-nugget of some type akin to P&G mapping out a retailer shelf plan? Is it distribution, and if so distribution of what? Google says “ads.” What else is possible and yields money?

    As to an aging audience (of what skews toward what are essentially late adopter middle aged women) who do you think is the residual audience 10 years from now for MyS and FB? Middle-aged women who will sentimentally look back at their new-tech high school (year)book and have virtual reunions and gigglefests with their gal pals.

    FB has already been stolen from the college student and co-opted by adults so it is already dead. What college student wants to network with creepy adults or enable them to use it for background checks? Bye bye FB. If Yahoo wants to do anything here, it should buy a company that cleanses your FB page of drugs and drinking. Give it your log in and it’s robot goes to work. Now that’s a widget.

    MyS was for garage bands and was coopted by high schools students.

    These vanity pages are like Barbie dolls – they are lifestage products that bring people to the net and the explosion is one of consumer enthusiasm (not raving fans, not champions, just consumers doing what they are compelled to do by plugging in a product).

    Think fads, fashion, short term, ephemeral marketplace events overlayed on top of a consistent lifestage – think media reincarnation. Now ask, what is the next incarnation of Geocitites, MyS, and FB for the next generation of naive high school students and jaded college students?

    Watch the companies who watch the trends – McD, Coke, Pepsi, Nike, Gap. It’s the McDonald’s (food), fun, fashion, music, entertainment and sports strategy. Put the next net twist on it and you are done.

    Oh, and it’s quite possibly not even on the net. So, perhaps Yahoo needs to be open to diversify beyond being an Internet media pure play. I’m sure Bear Stearns has some offline wonder laying around that they pitch.

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