May 20, 2005
Here at Fool.com we've long wondered when Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) would finally give in to temptation and become a portal. How fitting that it happened yesterday, on opening day for the latest blockbuster in the Lucasfilm franchise: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. You know the story, don't you? Promising young Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker is pushed, prodded, and tempted until he finally gives in to the Dark Side, breathlessly emerging as Darth Vader.
Google similarly gave in to its baser instincts yesterday by rolling out the beta version of its personalized home page -- a.k.a. a portal -- which looks strikingly like Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO ) MyYahoo! service. Not that Google's new personalized page has anywhere near MyYahoo!'s depth at this point. It took me all of five minutes to set up my Google page. I've used MyYahoo! for years and it's far richer and more useful. (But it's extremely cool to pull up my Gmail on my Google home page.)
Lost in all the hubbub about Google's so-called "fusion" strategy that aims to help users combine all their Web data centrally is how, exactly, the company aims to profit from personalization. Another me-too approach that apes MyYahoo! would, in my book, be akin to Anakin's descent into evil. It's tragic, and makes no sense when you really think about it.
So I think there's a method to Google's madness. I believe the company is going to leverage personalization to sharpen its paid-search machine. That's right: I predict Google will introduce targeted ads onto its personalized home pages. Why not? Google has found a way to insert digital come-ons in almost every service it provides. Why would a personalized home page -- where the detail available should make for highly relevant pitches -- be any different? It wouldn't, of course.
In the end, Google's personalized home page is probably nothing more than another way to monetize our constant craving for information in the digital age. But seeing how Google has consistently disrupted other established services with its innovations, this move should be taken seriously. After all, it could prove to be the light-saber strike that wounds Yahoo!'s core franchise.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith last night. Can't you tell? Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.