Internet eats its own: News portals hurt by social networks

The Internet is now eating its own.

News portals like AOL, Yahoo! and MSN, which helped devastate newspapers, magazines and local TV over the past decade, are themselves being damaged by social networks, notably Facebook.

Facebook, the latest Web sensation, is becoming the preferred news source of tens of millions of Internet users. Facebookers can keep up with just about anything without ever leaving the site. Their friends provide a never-ending news feed, posting endless links and news items.

And just as the news portals grew fat by cannibalizing content from the legacy media, Facebook links are as likely as not to come from the portals (which probably swiped them from a newspaper).

But it’s the intensity of Facebook use that really sets it apart. The average Facebook user views about 27 pages on each visit, according to the Web-tracking service Compete.com. That’s several multiples better than the major news portals. Yahoo! users typically view about eight pages per visit, while AOL users view about seven pages and MSN users about five.

Time spent on Facebook continues to grow at the expense of news portals (and other websites). The three top news portals saw their average time per visit drop by about 22 percent over the last year. Meanwhile, time spent on the average Facebook visit was up almost 50 percent, to nearly 23 minutes.

Journalist Dylan Stableford suggests that the way out of the portal dilemma is with original content, a path several of the portals are aggressively pursuing. Create worthwhile original content, the idea goes, and users will wind up spending more time on your portal.

That’s an idea well worth pursuing, I think — content is king on the Web, and eyeballs will go where content can be found.

But I think the content-creation strategy is better suited to tightly defined niches, a subject I’ve written about for MinnPost in the past. If portals try to be everything to everybody, they risk the same fate as that other great generalist, the newspaper.

And I have no doubt that two years from now, I’ll be writing an item about the new service that’s bleeding Facebook dry.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Craig Stellmacher on 06/28/2010 - 05:58 am.

    I posted this to Facebook for you John…

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 06/28/2010 - 07:26 am.

    AOL, Yahoo! and MSN are relics from the early days of the internet where dial-up connections were the norm and the “instant messaging” capabilities were a “wow” factor for users.

    The teens and preteens that were IMing all hours of the day and night in those days have now graduated from high school and/or college and have moved onto services like Facebook using high-speed ISPs or WiFi. These are the consumers that will drive whatever innovations that come down the line.

    Don’t forget that the AOL and MSN portals were the wagon behind the dial-up services that were the “cash cow” for each in those days. Most computers sold in 2010 no longer even have modems.

    Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest” certainly applies to the internet.

  3. Submitted by Darby Lawrence on 06/28/2010 - 12:08 pm.

    I wonder if the memory of the feel and smell and look of a newspaper will ever drive us back to that medium. Or perhaps printed material will become so expensive that only the very wealthy will be able to afford it. Then everyone will want a subscription so they can look cool reading their newspaper.

    Besides all that, what am I supposed to use to start my fires with? And when my shoes get wet, what can I shove into them to wick the water out of the toe-end? And let’s not forget the parakeets and puppies! (a phrase borrowed from Doonesbury in last week’s Post-Bulletin).

  4. Submitted by Cynthia Child on 07/02/2010 - 09:35 am.

    Great article.

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