The problem with portals

The problem with portals is that they aren’t portals at all. The windows are nailed shut. They’re traps. They want to lure you in and then not let you leave. I said this in my Monday Guardian column (which I’ll put up then):

When Yahoo was young, cofounder Jerry Yang told me that his site’s job was to get you in and out as quickly as possible. That certainly changed. Now Yahoo licenses and creates content and services to keep you in front of its ads as long as possible; it is known for collecting and not sharing traffic. I say that Yahoo is the last old-media company – still trying to get viewers to come to it – but it is successful because it is unencumbered by presses, towers, talent contracts, and other media legacies.

Sure enough, Gawker just left its Yahoo deal. Didn’t generate much traffic. Says Nick Denton:

The bald truth is that the deal, which we announced in November, garnered way more attention than we expected, but less traffic. A few new readers probably discovered Gawker, or one of the other four sites that we syndicated to Yahoo. I doubt many of them stayed. Yahoo has a mass audience; Gawker appeals to a peculiarly coastal, geeky and freaky demographic. And these people are more likely to come to our sites through word of mouth, or blog links, or search engine results, or Digg, not because of a traditional content syndication deal.

I go on to say in the Guardian column:

Contrast this with Google, which does still try to get you in and out quickly. It makes a fortune by putting targeted ads on many of the sites it sends you to. Thus its potential is unlimited, for the more content there is, the more Google has to organize, the more we need Google to find what we want, the more its ads can appear everywhere, and the more it earns. Yet Google still satisfies both traditional roles of the old networks in the content industry: It takes in money by aggregating audiences for advertisers, while it also pays out money to support content creators. Google is network 2.0.

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  • Jimmy

    Whenever I read on of your Yahoo-is-dying stories — of which there are many, for some reason — I just shake my head. Yahoo gets more unique visits and page views than Google and is constantly ranked as the number sight by those who track that. So, they must be doing something right (of course, as an avid Yahoo user and rare user of Google, I’m biased). Will that remain the same? Of course not. Google is catching up and will most likely surpass them. Does that mean their the last of their kind? Considering the number of portals ranking in the top of the most-visited web sites I doubt it. Yahoo’s biggest problem, I think, is a lack of originality and its lack of fright by what Google has been able to accomplish. Google has already whipped Yahoo’s butt in the advertising area, the sad fact is Yahoo allowed it to happed. They could easily compete with Google, maybe not surpass but compete, if they could get their act together. The first thing they need to do is get rid of Semel; he has no vision. Hell, you have all the answers. Maybe they should hire you. Just kidding. :) Google is a young, nimble company (although it is beginning to take on some less than pleasant corporate qualities); Yahoo is the grandfather of them all and desperately needs an injection of new blood.

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  • If Yahoo! is the last old media company, then so are millions of content-driven Web sites, which also attract viewers and try to keep them on the site. Amazon is pretty old-media, I suppose, since most of the links on the page are to other Amazon products. People somehow like to get abstract and forget key facts about the Internet industry:
    1) Yahoo! is still Web’s #1 destination.
    2) Traffic to Yahoo! is growing, not falling, month to month.
    3) While Google maintains its lead in search, and is actually increasing it quarter to quarter, search is just one of the Internet activities out there.

  • “The problem with portals is that they aren’t portals at all. The windows are nailed shut. They’re traps. They want to lure you in and then not let you leave.”

    who’s the “you” you’re referring to, jeff? me (an early adopter on crack) or my mother?

    my mom is a loyal user of myyahoo! and has made it a part of her daily routine. she religiously logs on each morning for the inbox module, the weather and my latest blog post. that’s usually it. sometimes she clicks-through to a news item that catches her eye, but 90% of the time, she’s there for email, weather and keeping tabs on me.

    i’d bet that the *majority* of unique visitors to myyahoo! are more like my mother than they are you and me, so why the drama? to this web user, a myyahoo! type experience is the one-stop shopping they need/want, because the web is just another tool in their life. my needs are different, more diverse and intense, so it’s not how i receive my information, but i’d bet good money that i don’t fit the mold of yahoo!’s primary design persona for the portal, either.

    for all the great things google has done, and the wealth of opportunities they’ve created with their smart moves in the advertising space, the interesting part of watching yahoo! grow over the past ten years is that they can and do cater to numerous user archetypes, with numerous needs, desires, intent, etc., either through in-house innovation or M&A’s.

    portals fill a specific need. why do you think google added their portal homepage?