Death of the Portal.

Is this what you are?

I gave a talk on this topic at AjaxWorld. Since I love to share, I decided to post about it. As I started to write a post, however, it started to get a wee bit long. So, like any hacker, I chopped it up. In this first post, I will discuss the death of the web portal. In the next installment, I will cover the emerging replacement for the traditional portal – the Social Aggregator. The resulting parts are still not exactly short, so chew slowly. 😉

p.s. I blogged some of this on this post about the changing media landscape.

The story of the Web Portal

The value proposition of the web portal was simple – we aggregate content for you to consume. In return for this service, you will give us your attention which we will monetize via advertisements. This value proposition made some people a lot of money. Most notably a little company called Yahoo. The foundational assumption of the portal model is that the user is a passive consumer of content. This assumption was adopted from the print mediums that were the forebears to the original portals. This is no surprise, especially given that the business models surrounding the web (page view) were adaptations of print business models. This concept used to work well because:

1. Content and service creation was difficult.
2. Aggregating content and services was difficult.
3. Computing, storage and bandwidth was expensive.
4. Majority of users were not familiar with GUI affordances.

Things have changed

At the inception of the web, data was almost entirely unstructured (HTML) and web-based applications were static because of the synchronous nature of the get/post mechanism. That is no longer the case. Web services, microformats, and structured data formats are swiftly proliferating. The increased availability of structured data, coupled with the availability of XMLoverHTTP has given birth to a new programming technique – AJAX. With AJAX, the rich interaction once only possible in desktop programming environments, is now available in the web programming environment.

So where does that leave the base assumptions that made the whole portal model work?

1. Content and service creation was difficult.

Any fool with a web-browser can blog, or edit photos. Everyday new tools come out as costs of content production continue to plummet.

2. Aggregating content and services was difficult.

No more. As data is exposed as web services, it is pretty easy to grab. Just ask Programmable Web.

3. Computing, storage and bandwidth was expensive.

No more grass-hoppa. If you don’t believe me, maybe you believe your hero Tim.

4. Majority of users were not familiar with GUI affordances.

Facebook generation rulez. Teens do not remember life before web.

The stage is set for a new paradigm

Things are ripe for change. The amount of content is exploding. User attention is staying the same. But, we have some new tricks available. So what’s next?

To find out, tune in for our next episode, “Birth of the Social Aggregator.” This is Hooman Radfar, signing off.

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