While Yahoo! is called a portal--wide, or horizontal, in its offerings--a vortal is deep, or vertical, in what it offers.
Portals are magnets for Web surfers, as they provide a gateway to the surfing experience and an overlying nomenclature or sense of organization to the massive content on the Web.
The key difference between a portal and a vortal is that horizontal portals appeal to just about all of us to some degree. Even if you work in nuclear waste disposal, you probably use Yahoo! for certain things. Excite, Go Network, AOL and Netscape NetCenter are other examples.
Vortals are much narrower in focus, but they tend to be more useful.
For some people, the Yahoos! of the world are confusing, cluttered, full of irrelevant content--especially when it comes to their profession. The more you are seeking a segment of Web-based information and resources, the less likely portals will provide it.
Vortals fill this need by gathering the usual types of information and resources but centered on a theme. There people can find information, tools and sites that fit their needs much easier.
A portal even exists for vortals (www.portals.net), which, while not yet comprehensive, is a darn nice start.
Some Internet industry gurus even predict vortals will replace portals for most users as they learn how to use the Web to accomplish tasks.
Vortals for all
What's the NetSense in all this? Most likely, for every type of marketer, there is a vortal that gathers tens of thousands of people in one place.
NetSense No. 1: Earmark part of your online advertising budget for vortals. Don't write a check to Yahoo! every month if there is a vertical Yahoo! in your target market.
NetSense No. 2: If you don't locate a vortal in your industry niche, build it. Why not? The more vertical the niche, the bigger opportunity you have of building a place where others seeking information in that niche can come to find it.
As the Internet grows, the need for high-quality vortals grows. It is a safe bet to say that within 10 years, there will be a vertical portal for every demographic group, every profession, every hobby, every anything.
Someone will build them. Why not you?
Eric Ward is a consultant, speaker and writer who launched the Web's first awareness-building service for Web sites in 1994. Reach him at AdAge@netpost.com.