A few days ago I was reading through an old copy of The Guardian… Well, I admit, it was a ten year old copy of The Guardian, and those who know how difficult I find it to discard a newspaper unread will be laughing at me. But once in a while this approach turns up something interesting. In this case it was a piece in the Online section headlined "Portal Combat" – and, in passing, searching the paper’s site for those two words suggests it’s time to retire that phrase before it collapses from overwork – which, amazingly, you can still read online.
The perspective of ten years made two aspects of the article particularly interesting. First, the subject is speculation about who will win the battle of the portals – Microsoft, AOL or Yahoo! I remember portals; the idea was that if you could provide a site which enough people would use as the start of each venture onto the internet, you could sell advertising on it. Which is sound as far as it goes, but I haven’t heard much about portals lately; I suspect that most people, if they change their start page from the manufacturer’s settings at all, start at a page they would visit anyway. I consulted Roger about this: we both use start pages which we constructed ourselves, and keep on our own computers – and we both admitted that these were in need of an update. I’d be interested to hear what start page other people use: a newspaper perhaps, or a search engine?
Which brings me to the second striking change in the ten years since this article was written. The printed version gave a table (not reproduced in the online version) of the "Top 20 web sites" – the 20 most visied sites in the US in February 1999. Top of the list was ‘AOL Network’ followed by Yahoo, Microsoft, Lycos, Go Network and, at number 6, Geocities. Amazon (described as ‘books’, because we might not know) was at number 11 and eBay scraped in at number 20. The online version of the article ends with a list of "useful portals": altavista, AOL, broadcast.com, excite, geocities, go, lycos, msn, ukmax and yahoo!
Neither list includes today’s most visited web site: Google.