Do Web Portals Have A Future?

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Something big happened in the Digital Marketing landscape last week.

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010, Compete announced that Facebook surged passed Yahoo! as the number two most popular website in the U.S. That’s big news, and most people focused on the numbers (nearly 134 Million Unique Visitors in January 2010, amazing engagement and thoughts about whether or not Facebook can eventually trump Google‘s position at #1), which is an important part.

But there’s something bigger happening here.

It’s easy to call this the death of the portal (and it might be), but that comment would be somewhat displaced if you looked at the numbers and how the rest of the Compete list plays out. What is happening is that as more and more people who are connecting online – and are building their profiles in spaces like online social networks – are much more inclined to make those personal pages their homepage.

That is a really big deal.

What people are saying is, "my space is more important than your space." Sure, portals can lay the pages out with edited, aggregated and curated news, but nothing beats the news that is created by friends, followers and those we know. Even Yahoo! has changed the game a little earlier this year with their new campaign that focuses on making your Yahoo! homepage more personal, but it’s still not the same thing as ones Facebook profile. This is not a fad, but rather a huge shift in how we first engage and connect when we go online. The new homepage is slowly shifting away from the portal model and into the personal model. This was not possible a few years ago, but as these technologies, platforms and channels continue to evolve, having your homepage be your own, personal river of news from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, or whatever is becoming much more commonplace (and what people seem to want as their home destination).

The Web is becoming ever-more real-time.

And as this shift happens beneath our feet (and though our mobile devices), we’re able to capture and connect more to real people – who really matter to us. So, the big question becomes: what are these mass media-like portals going to do to compete against people switching their homepages to their own personal profiles? Maybe a better question is: is there anything the portals can offer up that can trump that?

As we connect more and more, we’re clearly looking for something more personal and personalized.


  1. Personalization in this era is more about “ME+you” than about “my information in one place so it is easy to find”.
    The question may not be portals vs facebook. It may be other social communication tools vs facebook. Take instant messengers like Window Live Messenger. There are nearly 500 million people that use it. Add yahoo and other IMs and that’s a huge opportunity. Never mind email.
    This hit me just the other day. I was on the train from Montreal to Ottawa and msning with two of my young daughters (tethered via iPhone). They wanted to invite me to play a game on msn. hmm

  2. I think web portals have evolutionized and taken different forms. I remember when I first started setting up my personal website online I had to learn HTML look for an editor I ended up learning a lot a buying software to be able to have a decent personal website.
    Now everyone can set up a space on Facebook or other portals and all they have to do is set up the information and customize. In essence the objective is the same.
    I agree with Mitch that the importance of the web portal every day diminishes. The need to connect with each other becomes satisfied with other tools such as your mobile phone.
    Great Post.

  3. What about all the services being offered by Facebook, it’s not as much about unique visitors, as it is about page-views. I spend the majority of my time online on Facebook. and as they offer more services to me, I will spend even more time there.
    I see Facebook actually becoming what America Online wanted to be in the 90’s, a walled garden version of the internet itself. Except without those annoying FREE for 30 days CD’s.

  4. Interesting question. I know most people we service computers for have search engiens as their home page. Most of them don’t know how to change them or don’t care.
    I know this because over 50% of the computer we get have spam portals or msn. They never change it because that’s what the web is to them. They just don’t know or care as long as they get what they want.
    So I don’t know weather the portal is dead; but it would be nieve not to consider what you are.
    Definatly worth considering. I for one would like too see the satats on home pages.
    Also I still see people type “” into the search box all the time, no joke. However, I can see a whole new begining for home sceens, hopefully not spam!

  5. I’ve been using Facebook as my homepage for a while now.
    In 1994 my father was sitting at our computer and he was on the Yahoo page. A few days went by and as I passed him again he was still on Yahoo. I went over to him and asked him what he was doing. He said he was on the internet. I asked if he had left Yahoo and he had no idea what I was talking about. I showed him that you could actually leave the homepage and go other places on the web. He was like a little kid who went to Disney Land and decided to play in the parking lot.
    We have come a long way!

  6. Hi
    I’m not sure it’s the type of site that dictates the homepage. I think it’s more the relevance of information that’s available on that page.
    For example, I use Chrome which has my 6 most visited sites up on screen as the homepage loads. To me that’s more convenient than having my FB page pop up or the Google landing page. Someone else may want to load a specific Twitter search load as their homepage. Someone else may want the ESPN Premier League Football page instead.
    Ultimately, I guess it’s a matter of personal choice in terms of information that dictates what your homepage is, rather than the actual site itself (Kevin Dees’ point about “homepage-ignorance” notwithstanding).

  7. Surely it is the evolution rather than the death of the portal? What is Facebook if not a portal for the contemporary age? Facebook Connect currently links together all of the disparate sites that hold our interest, but who is to say that before long they try to bring the syndication within the walled garden?

  8. I’m not sure a would draw too much of a conclusion, say, that social media is ultimately providing more value. Right now, at least, it provides more entertainment. Are people using social media for fulfilling some deep human desire to connect with others, or simply for the entertainment value? [pre-coffee ramble]

  9. Yeah, I wouldn’t equate the rise of Facebook with the death of the portal. You don’t hear “portal” nearly as much as you used to and, ultimately, does any of the nomenclature truly matter?
    Yahoo, FB, Google, and every other site out there wants visitors, hits, “stickiness”, eyeballs, and (let’s hope) revenue. You could call it a “waffle” and, if it results in more of the aforementioned stats, that would suffice.

  10. Many people see Facebook itself as a form of portal. Friends posting something on your wall directing you somewhere will direct you and other friends to a certain article, blogpost, etc.
    We do not believe a portal like Yahoo can really do anything to blunt the effect of this shift other than providing content themselves, such as YahooSports columns, and trying to get that content spread onto platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
    The reason Facebook is the preferred model going forward is that it can turn anyone into content producers from the average blogger to powerful portals like Yahoo.
    Facebook itself is meaningless without content. However, by making it so easy for everyone to become content producers, they all but guarantee their long-term success.

  11. As an early aol user, I find myself going directly to facebook….. As fb has everything I need right now. I find it very useful to get me to where I want to go with out going to favorites in my browser. Facebook has made navagation very easy for many of us not to savy internet users……especially for smart phone users. One or two finger typing is new to many of us boomers……so much easier to just go to facebook and click vs trying to go thru the browser.

  12. What the portals now have to do is become customizable aggregators/mash-ups of all the social media tools out there like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and LinkedIn.
    If I could see all my social media in one location PLUS get some news, then THAT is my homepage … Google Reader is almost there, bu not quite.

  13. For me its social aggregation. I use a combination of igoogle and Hootsuite…iGoogle basically hosts my google reader which presents my rss and alerts…Hootsuite is where I mingle in Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook…
    I can hardly wait for a portal that will let me have a one page dashboard of my social activity and maybe a little news added…
    I think you are right we are looking something personalized that lets out integrate all of our interactions into one simple space…

  14. Hmm, an interesting question – and one that the mention of Facebook might be distorting.
    There’s plenty of people who don’t give a monkeys about Personal Branding and are just living their lives with the web integrated into that. And perhaps creating a more natural sense of who they are – of their Brand.
    Then there’s others who are more switched on to the game (as Chris/Julien articulate it) and are trying to play the system. And I think people doing this badly are those your are calling out – or are you being disheartened by what you see?
    Trust Agents treads that fine balance of understanding how the web is rewiring our interactions and doing to authentically.
    I do believe that as the web becomes more integrated into the way that people live their lives (and I mean everyone, not simply the early-adopters) that transparency will follow.
    Utopian? Maybe. But whatever happens, the masks we wear might well be more authentic to our real faces as we evolve with the network.
    What do you think, Mitch?

  15. Everyman on Real Life Marketing Stories, Beyond the Billable Hour, Use Analytics Questions
    My space is more important than your space! That is what Mitch Joel of Six Pixels says people are saying

  16. Prescient. I just sent an evaluation like this to a major CEO. I wanted to see if anyone else had come to the same conclusion… I was shocked to see that this article is over a year old. I haven’t found any articles like it either.

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