Google Declares the Death of Portals

Anyone else remember portals? Designed as all-inclusive browser home pages where you'd aggregate news alongside email, sports, classifieds, travel, weather, and links to other online interests, portals were to be a sort of Internet newspaper.

No longer. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) has declared the portal dead, killing off its own entry -- known as "iGoogle" -- with a number of other small-scale projects. The news came in a blog post issued just ahead of the Independence Day holiday.

Other projects piled onto the digital trash heap:

  • Google Mini, a specialized piece of search hardware aimed at small businesses.
  • Google Talk Chatback, a widget that allowed site operators to directly engage with their visitors.
  • Google Video, which has long been replaced by YouTube.
  • Symbian Search, a custom Google search app for devices using Nokia's old Symbian OS.

The big news here isn't so much that Google is cleaning house, but that there are still companies that depend on portals to some degree. AOL and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , notably. Trouble is, "My Yahoo!" is waning in popularity.

According to website tracker Alexa, Yahoo! is now the fourth most popular website behind Google, Facebook (NYSE: FB  ) , and YouTube. Why? The newspaper model of aggregating everything into a single place isn't so important when search engines such as Google and Bing make it easy to fetch data where it lives with just a few clicks.

But that's also not the worst part. Alexa search data reveals that most users aren't so much interested in "My Yahoo!" as they are the company's mail service. Meanwhile, according to comScore, Yahoo! sites attracted 11.3% fewer unique visitors in May 2012 than in the same month a year ago.

In killing iGoogle, the search king is bowing to the truth that social-media outlets have largely replaced portals as aggregators of webby goodness. Facebook and its more than 900 million active monthly users are, arguably, the biggest benefactors of this shift -- though the Big G would no doubt appreciate seeing more of us giving Google+ a try.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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