Here today, gone tomorrow

Here today, gone tomorrow

Tech blog

In the late ‘90s portals became a rage. Following the success of sites like Yahoo, there was a race to set up portals -- sites which met all needs of users by aggregating various services – all over the world. In India many media companies and pure-play dotcoms set up portals.  But since then portals have been steadily losing ground and many have gone out of business. A portal from a leading media company, after nearly 10 years of heavy-duty promotion, lies stripped to bare essentials today, eking out a token existence.

According to Comscore in June 2012, portals in India lost 2.6% of traffic year on year. The trend is irreversible. In the early days of the Net, when people had to be initiated into different services, there was value in an aggregator, who offered email, search, news, entertainment, games and directories on one web site. But now online users have matured, prefer to make their favourite picks.

The room for any conglomerate to lead the market in various categories is shrinking rapidly. Differentiation and specialisation is a sign of growth. Yahoo, despite its portal power, surrendered on search. Google is struggling in social networking. The kind of domination Microsoft enjoyed for two decades by using its operating system monopoly to dominate new services is history.

Now the next big thing, that which disrupts the industry, is as likely to come from a garage start-up, which in the past would have struggled to achieve scale. There was a window for behemoths to catch up and wrest control. In the connected world, for ideas  timed well, scale is instant and catching up never so difficult. With the Net dynamics changing every few years there is enormous pressure on established players just to stay afloat. Deeper pockets help in diversification, but the days of fancying world domination is over.

In June 2012, ComScore says social networking accounted for 25% of the time spent online in India. Compared to June 2011 people spent more time on social networking,  entertainment, business, retail and games.  They also spent less time on portals, email, search, instant messengers and yes, news sites.

News sites lost traffic by a small percentage. A 0.1% dip is perhaps negligible, but lack of growth is bad news for publishers, a clear sign that young online users will not seek out information the way their parents did.

The top 5 web properties in India are owned by MNCs – Google sites (94.8% reach), FaceBook (83.4%), Yahoo sites (65.5%), Microsoft Sites (48.1%) and Wikimedia sites (34.5)

Interestingly, NIC.in, the Government of India web sites, rank 10th in the list, with a reach of 21.8%. The huge demand for government information is poorly met by the badly designed and occasionally updated NIC sites. ComScore estimates Indian net population at 61 million, clearly understated as it does not include visits cyber cafes and mobile.

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