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Thursday, March 13, 2003

I disagree. Circle gets the square. I'll take Harvey Korman to block.

Had a friendly disagreement today with Mike Banks Valentine of website101.com, who wrote a guest column for Jill Whalen's High Rankings' Advisor.

Seems Mike said a few things about portals that kind of got my goat, since I've been defending the poor blighters at Yahoo since they were knee high to a grasshopper (well, maybe not that long).

Here's the exchange, FWIW. The eternal debate "are portals evil, doomed, and irrelevant, or is that complete BS?" continues...

Mike wrote: "It will be interesting in the long term though, as each engine buys up competing services to become more independent. Will any of those search properties need each other when every one of them has their own paid-inclusion, pay-per-click, shopping search, news search, image
search, blogger search, directory, financial channel, auto channel, auction channel, music channel, etc.? Aren't they headed back toward the mostly failed portal model that commentators are pointing to for the reason AltaVista failed, the reason Yahoo! wobbles under its own sheer size and weight, the reason they each had for becoming more like Google?"

Andrew replies: This seems to be the popular analysis these days, but it's hogwash.

First, who says the "portal model" failed? There remain four viable web portals, not counting the many leading indigenous country portals scattered around the globe. Yahoo is profitable, and will be more so after it rolls out Platinum service. It's not a perfect company, but it's large and profitable, so by any rational yardstick, how can it be seen as a failure?

Mike rebuts: I was quoting "commentators" on that "failed portal model", not doing my own analysis here. Fact is, I don't know why those companies failed, other than the famous "First to market" advantage that Yahoo! had.

Andrew fawns: Personally, I consult my My Yahoo! page several times a day. I use Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Calendar, Yahoo Mail (big mailbox version), Yahoo Fantasy Football (plus paid enhancements) and numerous other services. The only thing I never use Yahoo for is search. That means I spend another good chunk of my day over at Google.com (or type queries into the toolbar).

Mike admits: I have to admit to an anti-Yahoo! bias, but it is for a half dozen other reasons related to buying up services that I used and loved before Yahoo!'s acquisition. I dropped most of those services over privacy policy related issues except for a long established e-groups article distribution list I owned that is now a Yahoo Groups list. I just couldn't afford the time to archive and move all of the 2,000 (now nearing 6,000) articles stored in that database back then. I still use Yahoo! for all their services that are available in one place, just don't like them. It's personal and probably irrational to dislike a company on the one hand, but recommend clients pay to get listed in the directory above their objections. I'm aware of the value and utility there, just wish there were more respect for privacy and a bit of visible social conscience from a company with so much power and visibility.

Andrew continues: Anytime you're #6 or #9 or even #5 in an industry where there is limited mindshare, you're going to lose. AltaVista, Go2Net, Excite, etc. lost the portal wars. But there were winners.

Now as for Google. The claim is exaggerated. The fact is, you can go right to www.google.com now and take a look at the page. Look familiar? The word "Google" and a search box. Some clutter, eh? And are you really going to tell me that a search engine company is straying too far from search by offering news search and newsgroups? Most metasearch engines of the future, presumably, will have a much wider scope of options than that, searching both public and invisible web databases, etc. Google needs to pre-empt some of this.

Mike rebuts: I am probably one of Google's biggest fans, have been for about 3 years now and it is precisely because they concentrate so tightly on search. I love and admire the Adwords program and recommend it (and your report) highly to clients. The news search is a staple for me as I'm a news junkie. I think Google is one of the best managed and best run companies on the web and admire Brin and Page for their laser focus on search relevance. My biggest gripe with Google is that they don't support Mac's with the Google toolbar -- but then that is my biggest gripe with many companies, like First Place Software not supporting Mac with a version of Web Position Gold. What can I say? I'm a diehard Mac fan.

Andrew: Granted, insofar as Google is becoming an entry point of choice for millions of consumers, it is indeed a portal. But will it be a failed portal? It seems to me that it's a winner. Profitable, and the FOURTH LARGEST WEB PROPERTY OVERALL, trailing only the Big Three portals in unique visitors per month.

The concept of portal is often taken to mean "cluttered conglomerate" - but it also implies control over the user's daily agenda. Microsoft was the original "portal." How is Bill Gates doing lately? Need I say more?

Call me a portal, call me anything you like, just don't call me late for dinner.

Mike shudders: Please don't compare Google to Microsoft! I hate that analogy because of my emotional dislike of Bill Gates and Windows, .Net power grabs, Microsoft software licensing abuses, MCSE certification obscenities, server software security breaches, privacy issues and of course the way he stole and profited on Apple's ease of use by making Windows a Mac copy and then going on to world dominant monopoly power in operating systems riding on someone else's idea. I admit to biases unseemly for journalist, but I'm not a journalist. That is why I wrote the piece in a tongue-in-cheek fashion using metaphors like earthquakes rather than stating facts and figures.

Andrew concludes: Trust me, I'm no journalist either. Is it a good thing that Microsoft is what it is? No, but it's a very real thing. So whenever I get treated to another warmed-over analysis of the "failed portal model," I feel compelled to point out that the "portal model" is one of the most successful models in business history... indeed it is analogous to the railroads and telco monopolies of days gone by. We're already past the point of Google potentially being a monopolist in the online space, or potentially understanding that, like Microsoft, it can defend its ever-growing turf by "embracing and extending" others' innovations. That's the position Google is already in, in the here and now. Google's revenue figures for 2003, when they finally come in, are going to shock people. The valuation placed on the company when it goes public is going to shock people (particularly their competitor Overture, which is valued at only $1 billion). And like it or not, I still use the Google search engine every day, and I'm arguing with you from a Windows platform using a Microsoft browser. These are harsh realities, but they're realities, and certainly from Google's current standpoint, seem to be unavoidable realities. We all saw what happened to companies that were content to be in second or third place in the search space.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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