December 10th, 2006
We’ve all become so enamored with the increasingly distributed nature of the web — or the de-portalization as Keith Teare of Edgeio puts it — and the success of user-centric platforms like YouTube and MySpace. But we seem to be forgetting that the most successful platforms are acting just like portals — the “one stop shop” to find everything you want or a system that channels all of the value. Yahoo doesn’t create most of the content it aggregates — it’s an old school portal because it aggregates it by hand, so it’s a closed system and therefore less efficient than the platforms. But 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.
I hate to break it to Keith, but Edgeio aspires to be a portal for listings — just because you can publish the listings anywhere, doesn’t change the portal nature of the platform play. Platforms like YouTube, MySpace, and Edgeio are indeed a sea change because anyone can participate, unlike the old portals, where your content had to be selected for aggregation. But these platforms still want all of the value to pass through them, which is the essential nature of portals and mass media.
What I don’t understand about the face-off between YouTube and the TV networks is that everyone is still looking at it through the portal/mass media lens. Why is it YouTube vs. a YouTube killer created jointly by the networks? Why can’t video content owners follow the path of blogs and publish their content through whatever platform they want? The only missing ingredient is search — people come to YouTube to search for music videos or the latest Comedy Central clip. Once you can search for video from a third party search engine, it won’t matter where the video is hosted (putting aside for a moment the still substantial bandwidth costs).
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.