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Think Big. Move Fast.

On Friday, Christopher Beam at Slate takes a stab at How Facebook could crush MySpace, Yahoo!, and Google, saying about the site:

Facebook will turn into a do-everything site with the potential to devour the whole Internet…

But a Facebook homepage would have a huge intrinsic advantage: The social network is already built in. Sure, the other portals incorporate Gmail and BBC headlines and YouTube searches and podcast directories. By adding a social context to all of this content, however, Facebook would immediately trump its main competition…

If Facebook adds e-mail, IM, and RSS, it’s one step closer to becoming as comprehensive as Yahoo! and as popular as MySpace. The rest of the Internet might as well surrender.

Of course, he is far from the first to suggest that Facebook could become a portal. David Sacks, the founder and CEO of Geni, suggested the same thing in a guest post on Techcrunch in late May:

For the last several years, Yahoo, MSN and AOL have all suffered a declining share of pageviews, but that does not mean the portal is going out of style. Rather it has been redefined, first by Google, and now by Facebook in potentially even more profound ways.

The core question a portal needs to answer for a user is “How do I find the information I need?”…

Facebook has a new answer to the portal question. The “social graph,” or your network of relationships, will push information to you. You’ll learn from your friends. Thanks to Facebook’s new developer platform, the types of information being disseminated now include not just news, photos, events, and groups but also music, videos, books, movies, causes, political campaigns — and the list is rapidly growing into almost every conceivable category.

Others put their money on Myspace as the new portal. As Safa Rashtchy said at the Piper Jaffray Global Internet Summit last year:

Social networks such as MySpace.com are already challenging traditional portals. MySpace, for example, has surpassed MSN and AOL by measure of monthly page views, Rashtchy said, and its traffic equals roughly 75 percent of Yahoo’s, the No. 1 site on the Web.

Despite the digerati’s preference for Facebook over Myspace, Myspace has been a lot more aggressive about adding channels that mirror the traditional portal experience, including news, weather, music, movies, jobs and many more.

These are all folks much smart than me, and I agree that AOL, Yahoo, MSN and yes, even Google, have something to fear from the social networks. But it’s not because they’re becoming more portal-like. Wikipedia defines a portal as:

… a site created to function as a single point of access to information on the web, internally and externally. Portals present information from diverse sources in a unified way. … Aside from the search engine standard, web portals offer other services such as news, stock prices, infotainment and various other features.

What the portals need to worry about is not the social networks adding content and functionality to match this criteria. It’s something much nearer term because its already happening. It’s that social networks are becoming the home page for many users.

According to Comscore’s May data, the portals still have more of their traffic coming from “Logon” than the social networks do.

WEBSITE: LOGON %
Yahoo: 20.0%
MSN: 17.9%
AOL: 11.8%
Google: 10.5%
Facebook: 5.1%
Myspace: 4.1%

But the social networks are gaining a toehold, and there can be only one “homepage” for any user. Because of the power of the default, capturing the “homepage” centrality is an incredibly significant position; it offers the ability to direct a user elsewhere on the internet. Comscore does not let me cut the “traffic sources” data by age as it would be interesting to see if the “homepage” behavior is more widespread among the younger demographics that have adopted social networks more fully; this would be more troubling for the portals as demographics are destiny.

I’ve previously analyzed the websites most frequently visited by their users; here is how the portals and social nets stacked up then:

SITE: VISITS/MONTH
Yahoo: 29.2
MSN: 24.7
AOL: 21.4
Facebook: 20.9
Google: 19.2
Myspace: 19.1

If Myspace and Facebook’s numbers continue to trend upwards, there is a very real chance that more users will switch to using them as their home page, and that is the REAL challenge to the centrality of portals.

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