Startup Spotlight: UK Plus

Will UK Plus thrive as the portal business changes around it?
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor on

UK Plus inhabits a category of online service that has been around nearly as long as the Web -- the portal -- and continues to transform itself dramatically. While some portals -- particularly Yahoo! -- continue to exploit the genre successfully, the likes of Disney (with its GO Network) have been forced to search for other niches in which they can compete.

Like CharlotteStreet.com, which targets UK women, UK Plus is somewhat focussed on its audience, positioning itself as a family brand. Offering primarily a Web search directory the site presents a hand-picked "good, safe and clean environment for all the family to use", according to managing director Martin Dunn.

But the site, owned by The Daily Mail and General Trust, is at a crossroads: should it expand into other areas and services, a la Yahoo! or Freeserve, or seek growth with a narrower, but more focussed audience, as GO Network has done?

techTrader spoke to Dunn about the road ahead.

Do you plan to maintain UK Plus as a directory service, or is there the appeal to set it up as a more well-rounded portal?

UK Plus is slightly different to portals such as Yahoo! and Excite, as it is specifically a search directory. It uses a different USP to the market place, and offers a handpicked service. The question that we debate every day is whether we continue to advance it as a directory service, or whether we launch it into a full blown portal.

The main argument against making this move would be that there are already a lot of competitors in the full-blown portal space. On the other hand however, there is a tremendous amount of activity there. We may be pulled by the business opportunities that this move would offer, in order that we may capitalise on them.

Do you see your UK focus as a traffic earner? Do you plan to continue it in the long term?

The model for UK Plus does have legs in different countries, but it is undoubtedly focused on the UK -- hence its name! A UK audience is very targetted for advertisers, as they are only aiming to reach one specific country. We will have to wait and see whether or not we move into different countries in the future, but if we were to expand, it would obviously have to be under different names.

A UK audience is less "Net savvy". The content on UK Plus steers them around the Internet in an easier way. It is much more of a considerate guide than many other offerings.

Disney's GO Network has recently gone for a narrower more focused approach on entertainment. Does this sort of move herald the end for the general-interest portal, and do you see UK Plus being forced to go down the same path?

There's no need for a move like this now, as we a currently very happy with our business model. We are however casting an eye to the future when this may change. We may decide to launch mini UK Pluses in the future that would deal with different interest groups. I think that in the future, the Internet is going to become more focused on specific subject matter -- people won't go through general portals anymore as users become more informed.

Do you expect a stock market flotation in the future?

Only the future can determine this!

Startup Spotlight is a weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.

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