December 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 1999 Current Issue
December 1999 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




Web impresarios are racing to create sites that consolidate content and commerce

Portals are popping up everywhere on the Internet. There are portals for women, portals for stamp collectors and association portals. Every day, we receive news of the rollout of a portal site for a new area of commerce.

Portals are sites that offer users a consolidated view of content or commerce on the Internet. They range from a simple page filled with related links to sophisticated communities. Most proudly announce themselves as portals. Others are more subtle, adding ".com" or ".net" to their corporate name, putting "click" or "2" on the front of their address or starting the address with "my" or "big." If the site claims to be a single stop for anything (from booking a meeting to dealing with all of life's problems), you have stumbled on a portal.

Portals try to target particular types of users and address their specific needs.

All commerce. Many portals are aiming to consolidate e-commerce business in a specific sector. is an example of this type; it enables the user to access books and music from thousands of publishers, all at one site. The portal company prospers by getting a cut of the action. Some of these portals are quality-blind; they will sell any old product in the category, as long as the supplier agrees to be included and promises to pay the portal its commission.

Embedded technology. Some groups are using the portal to embed and sell their technology. For example, you can keep your personal calendar on a portal site without buying any software. Or you can host a collaborative meeting at WebEx ( or Centra Software (, two software companies that have shifted from just selling their programs to "renting" their functionality via a browser.

Learning only. Online learning is a growing Web sector, and several portals now offer short- and long-term courses from universities, associations and training companies. Learning-portal companies often can handle registration functions for conferences and classes. A number of retailers also are rolling out learning portals to attract new customers. For example, someone might go to a garden portal site to learn more about shrubs, and the site owner would push its products and capture the visitor's e-mail address.

Community and collaboration. Other portals are emerging that focus on building a digital community of users. You can recognize these portals by the presence of standard community technologies: chat rooms, threaded discussions, access to coaching and links to books to buy. The largest example of this is an online community for women,, which had 4 million unique visitors in June. In the meetings industry, sites like the PlanSoft Network ( and the Meetings Industry Mall ( fit this description.

Affiliation portals. These portals, geared to the nonprofit association world, offer the usual services learning opportunities, chat rooms and shopping using the association's equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval to recommend items. The affiliation allows for content screening and/or discount buying.

Portals are hitting the marketplace to address the e-commerce frenzy and to appeal to venture capitalists who love the idea of a dominant site for a sector of the Web. The jury is out on whether customers share this enthusiasm. But the experimentation is healthy for the Internet. The only problem with the idea of a single, one-stop site is there are so many, you need a portal to find the one you want.

ELLIOTT MASIE is president of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Masie Center (, an international think tank focused on learning and technology.

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