Portal profile: Stop and Go
March 5, 1999
by Glenn McDonald, special to PC World
(IDG) -- In the beginning, there was the Big Bang.
On the Web, that is. In the wake of the Web browser, which made getting around the Internet possible for us average Joes and Josephines, there was a profound explosion of Web sites and content hubs. The biggest of them developed into search engines and directory services--think of Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista, and so on.
Not to mention the other specialized mass media outlets for books, music, movies, business, and what have you.
Now we are in the era of the Big Crunch, as these various sites consolidate thanks to big-money acquisitions and mergers. A case in point: The Go Network, a sprawling endeavor created by the collision of new-school player Infoseek and old-money powerhouse Disney.
Unlike market leaders Yahoo, Excite, and AOL.Com, which offer their array of services under one domain, the Go Network is an organized affiliation of seven major Web sites: Infoseek, Disney.Com, ABC.com, Family.Com, ESPN.com, Mr. Showbiz, and Wall of Sound. Each retains its separate domain, and Go.Com itself is a kind of central hub for getting to material on all the other sites.
The approach is much like that of competitor Lycos, which pioneered the concept of building an umbrella organization over several disparate services and domains. Lycos manages Tripod.com, Angelfire.com, MailCity.com, WhoWhere.com, and HotBot.com, and recently merged with USA Networks.
The Go Network home site offers all the familiar portal services--free e-mail and Web pages, personalized news, local entertainment listings, chat, instant messaging, and the usual line-up of directory and search services. It's divided into four main areas, which you navigate via a tabbed interface.
The first area consists of various Go Centers, organized into categories: Family, News, Business, Entertainment, and others. Each category has its own page, displaying material snagged from Go Network's satellite Web sites and other content partners. A Web Directory tab takes you through basic online browsing; a Community tab to get to live chats, message boards, and Web page creation; and a Shopping tab.
At the top of each page is an Infoseek search box. Searches return both relevant directory categories from within the Go Network, and individual pages from the Web itself.
Go.Com still has a ways to go before it is an effective system for getting to available content. That's no surprise, considering it's a veritable newborn, even in Internet time. The site just launched in January. The tabbed interface is a new spin, but it's not as intuitive as Yahoo's simple and smart directories or Excite's highly customizable system.
Go.Com has actually appropriated many of the best ideas from other portals--you can personalize many of the home page settings, for instance--but overall it has a hodge-podge feel, and no distinctive style to call its own. Then there's the matter of the design and the odd, off-blue color scheme, which is occasionally difficult to read.
Content Is King
Considered as a whole, however, the Go Network boasts some very strong content. And well it should--it enjoys the reach of the Disney empire. Its sites have distinguished themselves. ESPN.com is generally regarded as the best online sports destination; Mr. Showbiz is among the best designed and most generous entertainment sites around; and ABC, of course, is a recognized global news powerhouse.
The upshot is that any one of these individual sites also has a better interface and design than the Go.Com hub itself. Your best bet is to bookmark Go.Com, and use it as a simple launching pad to the other sites--Infoseek for searching, ESPN for sports, ABC for news, and so on to suit your interests.
Go.Com is likely to get better as it grows, and as the site managers figure out better methods of integrating its vast array of offerings. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Disney is putting some serious marketing muscle behind the project. Those promotions should attract more users and make the community areas like chat and instant messaging more vibrant.
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