Google Updates the Portal from 1996: Info on Multiple Devices

August 30, 2012

The portal never really died. AOL and Yahoo have kept the 1990s “next big thing” despite the financial penalties the approach has imposed on stakeholders. There are other portals which are newer versions of the device which slices, dices, and chops. Examples I have looked at include:

  • NewsIsFree, which delivers headlines, alerts, and allows me to find “sources”
  • WebMD, which is a consumer “treat thyself” and aggregation information portal
  • AutoTrader, which provides a vehicle research, loan, and purchasing portal.

Google when it rolled out 13 years ago took advantage of search systems’ desire to go “beyond search.” The reasons were easy to identify. Over the years, I have enumerated them many times. Google’s surge was due to then-search giants looking for a way to generate enough revenue to pay for the cost of indexing content. Now there are some crazy ideas floating around “real” consultant cubicles that search is cheap and easy.

Next Generation Portals: Gate to Revenue Hell?

Fear not, lads and lasses.

Search is brutally expensive and—guess what?—the costs keep on rising. The principal reasons are that systems need constant mothering and money. No, let’s not forget the costs which MBAs often trivialize. These include people who can make the system work, run faster, remain online, and keep pace with technology. Telecommunications, power, hardware, and a number of other “trivial” items gobble money like a 12 year old soccer player after practice chowing down on junk food.

Next Generation Portals: Gate to Revenue Heaven?

Portals promised to be “sticky”, work like magnets and pull more users, and provide a platform for advertising. Portals were supposed to make money when search generated modest amounts of money. First Overture, then Yahoo, and finally Google realized that the pursuit of objectivity was detrimental to selling traffic. Thus, online pay-to-play programs took off. The portals with a lead like Yahoo fumbled the ball. The more clever Googlers grabbed the melon and kept going back to the farmer’s garden for more. Google had, it appeared, figured out how to remain a search system and make lots of money.

No more.

Do we now witness the portalization of Google? Is the new twist is that the Google portal will require the user to have multiple devices? Will each device connects to Google to show more portal advertising goodness?

There is a popular impression among some MBAs on Wall Street and “real” consultants that Google is riding the same old money rocket in did in 2004 to 2006. My view is different.

In 2007 to 2008, online advertising had to be goosed to honk. The old rocket ship was showing signs of running out of fuel. More was needed. If you have tracked Google from 2009 to the present, you will know that Google has:

  • Altered monetization algorithms
  • Put ads in more places
  • Blasted ads across broader “semantic” spaces
  • Moved into banners
  • Started charging for Google goodness
  • Trimmed costs from day care to “20 percent time”
  • Research and development with the “acqui-hire” approach to innovation

Today I learned that Google wants to remind me that my wife has a birthday. After 44 years of marital bliss, I remember the date. I also have a paper calendar which I update over Thanksgiving each year when I buy another paper calendar for the next year. Works great and has zero latency. Google is also embracing food reviews. “Google Now Updated with Movie Showtime Suggestions, Emergency Alerts, and More” adds to the portal goodness of the once-search centric Google. If apps are so great, why is Google becoming a portal? Answer: A pursuit of money.

What Google has done to bring the portal into the Google we know and love today is “prove” that I need to have multiple devices logged into Google when I am awake. Navigate to “If Content Is King, Multiscreen Is The Queen, Says New Google Study. How could the study and its results be anything but objective and work worthy of a PhD dissertation? Why would I wonder if an outfit with math skills and a desire to sell ads would even do the study? Am I a believer? You betcha.

Here’s what the Google study tells me:

The state of TV viewing perhaps illustrates consumer usage best of all: polling 1,611 people across 15,738 media interactions and nearly 8,000 hours of activity during Q2, the study found that users are watching TV on average for 43 minutes per session — the most of any screen — but 77% of that time we are simultaneously using another device like a smartphone or tablet.

Television means ads, doesn’t it? Perhaps the portal push by Google is about ads and revenue?

The point is that Google has crafted a series of tactical moves which are reinventing the portal. Will it work? Well, AOL and Yahoo are still with us. How will that work out in the revenue department? AOL and Yahoo provide some interesting cases which warrant further analysis. With online data disappearing or 404ing, I won’t bother to mention Excite or Lycos. Those two services are in portal heaven.

Stephen E Arnold, August 30, 2012

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