What the heck is a portal anyway?

Among other things, a post today by my friend Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 has helped crystallized for me just how inadequate a lot of the terminology is that we’re using for Web services and communities — and not just the obvious kind of cringe-inducing terms like “user-generated content.” In his post, entitled Platforms Are The New Portals, Scott discusses Edgeio and a post that Keith Teare has written about the “de-portalization of the Internet.”

Scott says that “user-centric platforms” such as YouTube and MySpace are acting more like portals, and that Yahoo is an old-school portal because it doesn’t create most of the content it aggregates, and because “it aggregates it by hand, so it’s a closed system and therefore less efficient than the platforms.” In Scott’s view, Yahoo is a portal but YouTube is a platform, in that it allows people to upload things (VC Fred Wilson has written about Yahoo and “de-portalization” here).

But at the same time, he says, “even a platform like YouTube that embraces the distributed nature of the web is still acting like a portal, because YouTube is THE place to upload your videos and THE place to find your videos.” Scott asks why video content owners can’t do what blogs do and publish their content wherever they want, and then with a good search engine “It won’t matter where the video is hosted.”


In conclusion, Scott says: “The challenge for any company that wants to scale in the distributed age is to create a platform that acts as a distributed portal — still a de facto gateway, but one that exists across the web.” This is no slight against Scott, but that sentence made my head hurt. And the more times I read it, the more my head hurt. So you have to be a platform, but one that is a distributed portal; a gateway, but one that exists “across the web.”

The worst part is, I think he’s right. It’s just the language that is making things difficult. What is a “gateway” or a “portal” or a “platform?” If I had to try and imagine something like what Scott is talking about, it would be a new kind of television — one that is hooked up to the Web, and has a powerful search engine, and shows me content not just from the TV networks but from anywhere (like this kind of stuff), using tags and keywords and smart filtering and Digg-style voting and search.

What to call it? A plat-port-way. A way-form-tal. A whatever. I want one.


Leigh Himel’s friend Peter says the network is the portal.

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