Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December
BY ELLIOTT MASIE
PORTALS BRING IT ALL TOGETHER
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.
TAKE YOUR PICK
Portals try to target particular types of users and address their
All commerce. Many portals are aiming to
consolidate e-commerce business in a specific sector. Amazon.com 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 (www.webex.com) or
Centra Software (www.centra.com), 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
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, www.ivillage.com, which had 4 million unique
visitors in June. In the meetings industry, sites like the PlanSoft
Network (www.plansoft.com) and the Meetings
Industry Mall (www.mim.com) 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
HERE TO STAY?
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 (www.masie.com), an international think
tank focused on learning and technology.
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