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Nando joins portal ranks

The site is the latest of a slew of sites to offer the add-ons of the "traditional" portals, but observers say it takes more to be a true Net gateway.

Seems like these days, one can't turn around on the Net without encountering another site going portal.

In just one of the latest examples, Nando, the site for the new media division of McClatchy Newspapers, today changed its name to Nando Media.

Why the change?

"With the name change," states a story posted on the site today, "Nando Media introduces a new portal page...that gives an overview of the information and services found at the site."

Nando joins the swelling ranks of news, sports, financial, and entertainment sites that are increasingly touting themselves as "portals"--sites that aim to be gateways to the Web.

"One of the most contagious diseases for Web marketers today is portalitis--and communityitis," said Gregory Wester, director of Internet marketing strategies for the Yankee Group.

"Everyone wants free email," he added, citing the online version of Business Week as a recent example of a content site offering the add-on.

But, he added, most sites dressing themselves as portals are, well, just Web sites in portal clothing.

"Everyone's kind of positioning themselves as little baby portals," he said. "Forget it. You're a Web site."

But what's the difference?

Though there is Portalopoly no standard definition, especially since the concept is still so new, the basic idea is that a portal is a place that serves as a gateway onto the Net. Those sites try to offer users everything they need and want: free email, stock quotes, paging services, and an array of content--original or aggregated. Most of the "traditional" portals, such as Yahoo and Excite, began as search engines or directories.

The older, proprietary online services such as Prodigy, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, and America Online started off with the same concept in mind more than a decade ago. Only back then, the services were not just gateways to the online experience. In most cases, they encompassed virtually all of that experience.

With the advent and then the explosive growth of the Web, the scene started changing. All of the sudden people once restricted to the online services had a vast alternative: the Web. But the Web was hard to navigate, especially for newer users.

Enter the search engines, places where users could go to find information on the Net.

While the proprietary nature of online services--with the notable exception of AOL--either died or became Web-based, the needs of people going online never really changed. They still wanted to be able to get information and services quickly and easily. That's when the search sites began providing categories--now called channels--that gave users the same look and feel they might encounter on an online service.

The phenomenon took off, and that's when the search engines started offering the other basics once provided only by online services, such as free email, discussion boards, chat, and stock tickers. Others saw the trend and jumped into the game.

The evolution has led the portals to become fully functional sites where Netizens, if they wanted to, could stay to fill virtually all of their needs, from chat to shopping to email. In a sense, the gateways have come full-circle.

Since traffic has flocked to the portals--which consistently make up the top ten most-visited sites on lists by measurement firms such as Media Metrix--everyone else has been trying to jump on the portal bandwagon to become one of the handful of sites expected to win the portal war.

But simply adding the extras does not a portal make.

"A portal is a site that can successfully broker a significant share of consumer needs in three areas: information, communications, and commerce," Wester said, emphasizing the word "significant."

And most analysts and observers agree that in the end, only a handful of sites will succeed in becoming true portals.

And the others?

They're just what they look like, Wester said: Web sites.