'

A Year Ago: Amazon will be next to snap up a portal

First published: Wed, 20 Jan 1999 14:38:24 GMT

Merger fever is sweeping the world's largest corporations with Internet giants leading the charge. We have already seen the union of AOL/Netscape, and yesterday @Home and Excite tied the knot. Jesse Berst surveys the portal scene, asking who will be next to wed and who'll still be a player in 2000...

By now you've heard about the $6.7 billion deal that marries Excite's portal and @Home's cable-based Internet access. Click for more. And about NBC and CNet launching a new portal aimed at users of ADSL and other high-speed, phone-based Internet services.

What's next? And who's going to win once the dust settles? Analysts think Microsoft will buy Lycos. But there's a blockbuster in the wings that could be even more powerful... Amazon and Lycos. That's right. E-commerce pioneer Amazon.com may take its overpriced stock and snap up a portal, possibly Lycos. Combine Lycos with Amazon's customer base and the calendaring services of its PlanetAll subsidiary, and you have a super-portal that could be first to truly cash in on personalized ecommerce. Even if Amazon succeeds in its super-secret efforts to buy a portal, it will face tough competition. In order of size and muscle:

America Online: Brand leader and audience leader with great content, commerce and community. Has the best interface (of a bad lot). Poor personalization and a proprietary platform are stumbling blocks. Main challenge is merging/managing multiple brands -- AOL, CompuServe, Netcenter.

Yahoo: Strong brand and strong personalization features, plus popular search and navigation tools and a growing e-commerce function. But this arrogant giant is beginning to slip against rivals and has no (visible) broadband strategy. (Disclosure: ZDNet parent Softbank is an investor in Yahoo.)

MSN/Lycos: If Amazon.com can't corral Lycos then Microsoft probably will. A deal would create a rich customer base -- MSN, Microsoft.com, Hotmail and Lycos. Already a leader in personalization, MSN has strong content and ecommerce with Expedia, Car Point, Investor.

@Home/Excite: Richest customer base with @Home, Excite and AT&T customers/subscribers. A leader in broadband rich media marketing, ads, personalization and services; can add phone service over cable. Like AOL, offers full soup-to-nuts menu -- Internet access, content, commerce, community, services. Lacks brand awareness and compelling content.

Go Network: Will distinguish itself as a content-oriented destination with rich fusion of ABCNews.com, ESPN.com, other Disney properties. Has Infoseek's excellent directory and search services. Plus Mickey's promotional genius.

NBC, Snap: Late to the game, but can try for early lead in broadband content with new partnership with phone companies. There are other portals and portal wanna-bes that are candidates to buy or be bought, including AltaVista, McAfee Online, PointCast, GeoCities, The Mining Company and HotBot. Who will be the No. 1 portal site 12 months from now? I predict America Online will stay on top, followed by Amazon, Disney and Microsoft.