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Rupert Murdoch Engages in a Bit of Portal-Speak

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Rupert Murdoch said MySpace "needs to be refocused as an entertainment portal." I have mostly stopped reading stories about MySpace, or other social networking companies or initiatives because I just can't take it anymore. Social networking has been clubbed to death. It needs to stop. We need to let the poor animal escape off the beach and prosper as it might, or might not, in nature.

But Mr. Murdoch's comments stopped me because I haven't seen anyone reportedly aspire to build a portal in years. To double-check I went to Hulu to see if they use the word portal given that Hulu seems to be a well-adjusted, functioning portal. There is nothing obvious that I could find. The mission statement says:

"Hulu's mission is to help people find and enjoy the world's premium video content when, where and how they want it. As we pursue this mission, we aspire to create a service that users, advertisers, and content owners unabashedly love."

The explicit use of the word "where" in the mission is anti-portal. In the section about distribution, Hulu goes further, saying:

"We take a lot of pride in making it easy for Hulu.com users to find and enjoy great video, but we also realize that one website is not enough. It's just as important to make it simple to find premium videos at millions of other places around the web. Wherever people spend their daily lives on the web, we want hit shows, movies, and clips to be just a mouse-click away."

Hulu may be comfortable as a video portal, therefore, because it has no plans to remain one; it envisions a media world with millions of other places that may matter equally in the eyes of consumers. This is well-adjusted thinking.

According to the Journal, Mr. Murdoch is thinking of MySpace as a place where "people are looking for common interests." This is portal-speak, and we should pay attention to it. It is really very important in regards to what it says about the challenges we keep having retro-fitting offline media to online media. If a place is about people with common interests, those places, on balance, are going to be small(er). But, this is not likely what Rupert Murdoch is thinking. No, indeed, when media industrialists such as Rupert Murdoch talk about places where people are looking for common interests they are thinking BIG -- so big as to equal all common interests.

All common interests describes the Internet. It is a place of near infinite common interests. Given that, a place of common interests inside the Internet is superfluous. It is unnecessary. Hence the history of AOL, the on-going identity crisis at Yahoo!, and the fact that we don't hear much talk of portals anymore -- because they failed the value test.

Offline we talk about "general interest" media, such as general interest magazines, which have been among the biggest players in the traditional media world. No surprise that we should seek to emulate them online. But, we don't need general interest online. The common interest is so accessible that aggregating enough of what enough people are commonly interested in is -- again -- unnecessary.

The Internet is the place for common interests and no other places need apply.