They were originally intended to serve as one-stop-shopping for a particular class of internet user. That is, they were narrowly focused on providing, in one location, all of the services needed to conduct some particular bit of business on the web. The idea was that if there was one site that, for instance, told you everything that you wanted to know about buying, caring for and raising exotic fish, then it would quickly be the place that exotic fish aficionados would go first when looking for something. As a result you would have a captive audience for purposes of advertising, and would be able to act as a middleman (and take a cut) by connecting consumers with vendors.
The idea was (and is) basically a good one, but it turns out that the look and feel of the portal is crucial. Someone visiting for the first time, even if they know almost nothing about the industry, must be able to spot at once what the portal is for, and how to find out what they want. At the same time a seasoned user of the service must not have to jump through hoops to get to the particular item that interests them today.
During the 1990's, many companies created portals, and most of them failed miserably. Mainly this was because they were hard to navigate, did a poor job of being a one-stop-shop for their users, and were often very difficult for the uninitiated to understand. As a result, most portals deployed today are part of a company intraweb and are used to coordinate the work of all of the members of that corporation, and where the audience has little or no choice in the use of the service.
You've probably guessed the reason that I'm providing this background: I would like to propose that someone create a new web portal. In particular, I would like to see one dedicated to the setting up and running of virtual corporations.
The idea behind a virtual corporation is quite simple. If most of the work is outsourced and the few actual employees work from home offices, the costs of running the company can be drastically reduced. One success story is Topsy Tail Co., which has revenues of $100 million per year, but only three employees.
Once everyone is working from home offices, then the cost of the corporate offices can be almost elimated. I say 'almost' because some corporate workspace is often useful. Sometimes one of the team members visits from out-of-town and needs a temporary office for the duration. Sometimes you need to get everyone together for an actual physical meeting. Sometimes its necessary to sit a client down in a business setting with a members of your team.
In all of these cases its useful to have a single office or meeting room that one can use at need, although since they are used quite rarely its often more economical to rent them on an as-needed basis from a virtual office supplier.
These suppliers are just one of the many services that a virtual corporation needs to contract for. In fact, it turns out that a virtual corporation has many specialized needs, including such items as:
- Dedicated mail and web services.
- Coordination and collaboration software.
- Telecommuting employees
- One-click legal and accounting services (such as incorporation in Vanuatu).
- Phone answering and call-forwarding services
- Receptionist and physical mail services
Such a service might prove quite lucrative. Besides, the company that runs the portal could have rather low expenses, as it too could be virtual.