While the general catch-all consumer Web portals are battling it out for eyeballs—buying each other and remaking their sites faster than we can blink—the business-to-business vertical portal trend is quietly gaining momentum. And now, some companies are providing plug-and-play solutions to vertical portals that are looking to quickly add a critical mass of key information sources for a target market. The goal of vertical portals is to offer enough content, along with community, customization, and commerce options, to become a destination site for business professionals rather than just a starting point, and ultimately, to convert visitors into customers.
Aeneid Corporation (http://www.aeneid.com), a privately held company based in San Francisco, recently unveiled its new content aggregation and commerce service for vertical portals. EoCenter (http://www.eocenter.com) currently provides access to carefully chosen, high-quality, publicly available information on Web sites, using Aeneid's proprietary technology in a "narrowcast search" (constrained to key sites), and powered by the Inktomi search engine. Bob Ainsbury, chief technology officer of Aeneid, says they expect to add proprietary content in EoCenter by about the third quarter of this year, and eventually offer pay-per-view capabilities. EoCenter for Technology and EoCenter for Finance are available now, and EoCenter for Healthcare will be available in the third quarter of 1999. The word Eo means "go" in Latin.
EoCenter is billed as "a complete Internet research environment that provides seamless access to industry information on the Web." According to the company, EoCenter provides pre-built information catalogs containing more than 2,000 business sources and 3 million documents. For example, a search on a company might provide well-organized links to company profiles (from high-quality sources, like Hoover's, CorpTech, IPO Central, and MarketGuide), press releases and breaking news, SEC filings, product and technology information, industry trends and market information, and recent articles.
Users can choose to search the targeted content in various ways, such as all the categories or a single category such as News, or from individually targeted sites. For example, in the High Tech Research Center, publication sites include CMPNet, HotWired.com, IDG.net, ZD Net, and others. In the Finance Research Center, the list of sites in the Associations category is wide-ranging and extensive. In the Economic Statistics section, selecting an item like "Personal Finance" takes the user directly to the relevant page with the latest figures at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Department of Commerce.
The customer gains by retrieving more precise results, by not having to travel to many diverse sites, and by not having to know the relevant sites ahead of time. The vertical portal benefits by not having to collect and organize the information. A variety of options allows portals to maintain brand consistency in the layout.
Michael Valentin, general manager and chief technology officer of Individual Investor Online (http://www.iionline.com), said, "As a financial media company, our goal is to provide our readers and members with valuable content. EoCenter provided us with flexible options to expand our editorial coverage, complementing our research, analysis, and breaking news with additional content from the Internet. Instead of collecting and aggregating information one piece at a time, we leveraged EoCenter to quickly create a full-service research center of information sources for individual investors."
Daniel Putterman, president and CEO of Aeneid, commented, "Aeneid is focused exclusively on the needs of vertical portals and the professionals who use them. Before Aeneid, vertical portals had to license content on an individual basis with information providers, create directories, and deploy search tools on their site to meet their customers' industry content needs. With an EoCenter, vertical portals can focus on their unique content and brand, while dramatically reducing the time to market for deploying ‘must-have' destination site features."
EoCenter is the foundation of Aeneid's Internet Information Exchange, also just announced. The Exchange is a network of these vertical portals that have become affiliates by deploying Aeneid's EoCenter environment. Best of all, becoming an affiliate is a no-cost agreement. Aeneid expects that sites will see an increase in traffic and visitor retention, thus raising their value to advertisers and companies that would leverage the platform for commerce. The network creates, in effect, a channel for corporate vendors, advertisers, and information providers to gain direct access to their target markets. Aeneid would make money on advertising and on sharing in the pay-per-view revenue.
"Because competitive portals are only a click away, professionals will visit multiple vertical portals to satisfy their information needs. This dynamic presents an opportunity for an Internet Information Exchange," said Putterman. "The Internet Information Exchange provides a network that profiles and monitors user behavior, such as where they go and what information they retrieve, to improve the targeting of sales, marketing, and customer relationship management. As a result, advertisers and corporate vendors can effectively reach their audience regardless of the destination visited."
Other sites in the Internet Information Exchange, in addition to the Individual Investor Online site, include Red Herring (http://www.redherring.com), Wall Street Research Net (WSRN; http://www.wsrn.com), Borland's site (http://www.borland.com), and Planet IT, a membership site for IT professionals produced by CMP Media Inc. (http://www.planetit.com). Gale Group has been using Aeneid technology for its ComputerSelect Web product.
And, in what has to be viewed as a coup for both sides, Aeneid and VerticalNet, Inc. (http://www.verticalnet.com) have just announced a joint development and marketing partnership that will bring specially developed Aeneid EoCenters to VerticalNet communities. Through the agreement, VerticalNet's network of 39 vertical portals will be able to leverage Aeneid's industry information catalogs and advanced search technologies. VerticalNet includes industry-focused portal sites like Water Online, Power Online, Chemical Online, Pharmaceutical Online, and Fiber Optics Online.
"Aeneid's EoCenter will bring technology that makes our communities richer and more valuable content destinations," said Mark Walsh, president and CEO of VerticalNet. "This relationship extends our leadership position in business-to-business marketplaces and combines industry content and rich technology in VerticalNet-specific EoCenters."
"We are excited to be working with VerticalNet, a clear leader in the vertical market segment, to further the development of its industrial communities," said Putterman. "This strategic relationship allows us to quickly penetrate new vertical markets and accelerate the development of the Internet Information Exchange."
Aeneid was co-founded in 1996 by several seasoned Internet entrepreneurs and technology visionaries. Dan Putterman, president and CEO, attended college at age 12, published his first book at age 16 for Microsoft Press, and held senior positions at Symantec and Borland. After only 2 years, he sold a start-up company of his, Maximum Information, to NetManage for almost $20 million. Aeneid has grown quickly; it now has 40 employees and is actively recruiting more. It has raised around $11 million in financing.
For those in the information industry who thought aggregators would soon be dinosaurs in the Internet age, Aeneid and other Internet innovators offer a new twist. After laborious and frustrating Web surfing, many users should appreciate the value of highly targeted professional destination sites.