In the late 1990s, the Web was a portal world. Web portal players like AOL, Lycos, Excite, MSN, and Yahoo! built islands of information and fought like hell to keep users with services like email and "exclusive content." Everything was about acquiring and keeping eyeballs and stock market valuations were priced accordingly. At the time I was in the business of supplying news content to the portals and it had the air of a Turkish bazaar as content feeds were bought and sold like a commodity.
As the portals fought with each other, consumers were left out of the discussion. So while the analysts talked up the merits of this portal vs. that as if that's all there was, a little search engine called Google figured out a better way to organize information on the Web.
Have you used Lycos, Excite, MSN, or Yahoo! recently?
I fear we are entering Portal 2.0, as the major social sites have been jockeying for position this past week to win the minds of consumers much like the portals did more than a decade ago. These companies appear to be creating islands by erecting the same sorts of barriers as the portals did in the late 1990s.
First up was the announcement and release of Google Plus a new social sharing network. I received a covered early tester invitation and tried it out. Although I really wanted to hate Google Plus, I like it very much and am using it every day. While it is an excellent service, there are no significant hooks to Facebook or Twitter so it is yet another stand-alone service I need to check out each day along with my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
With Google entering the social space, executives (and their venture capital backers) at Facebook and Twitter must have panicked because over the long U.S. Independence Day holiday a few important developments occurred.
Over the long U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend, Google discontinued its excellent real-time search feature -- powered mainly by Twitter -- that had been active since December 2009. The agreement by Twitter to supply a fire hose of content to Google was allowed to lapse. Too bad, because Google's real-time search was terrific. Hopefully this is just a negotiation ploy and the two companies will announce a deal soon. I fear, however, it is portal mentality at work.
Next up with a response to Google Plus was Facebook. The company has apparently blocked a contact-exporting tool used to let people save the email addresses and other information of their Facebook friends as a file or to import them into Gmail. Of course, users who can get the email addresses of their network of Facebook friends have an easier time setting up a Google Plus network so it appears this also seems to be portal mentality driving the move.
Sure, I understand that Google, Facebook, and Twitter need to make money. Their investors are counting on that. But in their scramble to erect moats around their services and as they scramble to keep users, are they potentially driving them to consider a more nimble way to communicate?
Is there a smart company waiting in the wings ready to swoop in with a better way to organize social contacts that doesn't rely on a Portal 2.0 mentality? I have no doubt there is a company out there solving this problem just like Google solved search a decade ago. I look forward to the day when my social services and personal contacts are not housed in separate islands dotting the ocean of the social Web.
Follow David Meerman Scott on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmscott