Welcome to "My" Parlor
Harkening back to the classic "electronic newspaper" conceit dreamed
up at the beginning of the network revolution, a centerpiece of any portal worth half its market cap is news personalization
(you can usually recognize it by the annoying prefix "my"). You provide some demographic data and check some preference boxes, they serve
up your customized set of linked headlines.
In an effort to achieve what pundits and analysts call "stickiness,"
the links are nearly always limited to the news portals can co-brand or host on their servers, which typically
means bland reporting from Reuters. By confining you within their castle walls and placating you with whatever
content gruel they've managed to hoard, they baldly flout this technology called the "Web," which is
explicitly designed to leverage the power of interconnectedness.
Bucking the trend, however, are Snap and MSN. These two forgo the Roach Motel model by being so bold as to feature links to content
and news all over the web -- instead of just to stories housed in their own databases -- and in the process provide
a superior content experience. With their rotating lists of external headlines, Snap and MSN essentially offer
smart, updated bookmark pages. Business news from my.yahoo.com means factoid reporting from a wire feed; at Snap
it means linked headlines to news, analysis and opinion from Business Week, CBS Marketwatch, Bloomberg and others.
A friend at Excite scoffed at this model, noting that they tried outside linking
once, only to discover that Wall Street cares about two key portal statistics: page views, and the length of time
users spend at the site. Snap sees things differently, of course. "We like stickiness as much as the next
portal," explained Andrew Hyde, Snap's CFO, "but we don't want to rein in our users. We would rather
make our service so relevant that they don't need to user other portals and keep coming back to use Snap as their
window to the web."
Hyde explains Snap's policy as "putting the users first." And for good
reason. The Web is bigger than any one site can ever hope to be (yes, even Yahoo!), and it doesn't take long for
users to learn that. When offered the choice, whom would you rather be -- the spider traversing her own strands
on the web, or the fly stuck in it?