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First Look At Web18s Horizontal Portal

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While some have been saying that the horizontal portal is waning in influence, Web18, the internet company from the Network18 group is set to open its so-called-horizontal portal for beta testing. I met Rishi Khiani (COO, Web18) and Varun Singh, (CTO, Web18) yesterday for a sneak peek at Khiani and Singh wouldn’t disclose the amount spent on the domain, but it’s a two letter domain of some significance.

The site appears to be a massive aggregator of content and services – they give access to News, Music, Videos and Games, as well as vertical search for Flights, Hotels, Matrimonial information and Products. Some screenshots:   Listen   Home   Watch

Many more screenshots here.

News: they’re displaying the top India specific news stories with the usual verticals covered – current affairs, science and tech, sports, business etc. There’s a section called “My Feed” where users will be allowed to add their own RSS feeds – similar to I couldn’t figure out how to add the RSS feeds that I want to read (Update: They’ve added it now. The site is in beta). Content discovery is also enabled via “Hot Topics”. Users can rate stories, and just like in case of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News, multiple sources for news are being displayed. At present, Web18 is aggregating 900 sources of news, and users can suggest news sites.
Music: Web18 has tied up with content providers like Saregama, Universal Music, Sony (NYSE: SNE) BMG, ACM Records, Independent Artists, Putumayo, Times Music, Virgin, Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG), EMI, Counter Culture Records and others. Importantly, for India, they’ve done deals with both PPL and SIMCA. All the music is licensed and users can create their own playlists. They’ve also tied up with Seeqpod for enabling music search.

Comments by Cerius and more on vertical search, videos, games, email, and the implications of this launch in the extended text.

Videos: aggregating videos from Reuters,, YouTube, ishare, BigAdda and others, essentially aggregating embedded videos. Singh told ContentSutra that even when aggregating content from video-sharing sites, they’re filtering out R-rated content. Nevertheless, there’s a naughty video section, which isn’t “family viewing” (with videos like Big B**bs Karate).
Games: Singh told me that they’ve got around 7000 games; no tie-ups there, they’ve just added a number of embeddable games.
Email: has a tabbed interface with quick switching between tabs. Can attach a maximum of 5 files to an email. Like in case of gmail, text adverts currently appear on the right hand side. Also, there’s empty space on top which will be used for a banner advert.
Meta Search: Flight and hotel search tie-up with meta search Bezurk, Matrimonial tie-ups with,, and WebIndia123 and product search tie-ups with Storeguru,, Rediff (NSDQ: REDF), Indiaplaza, Ebay, Indiatimes, Futurebazaar, Homeshop18, Sify, Indmall and Sirindia
Advertising: Just one advertising spot on the content pages, and two spots on email.

With most of the content, users can create their own selection. The next step will probably be allowing users to share selections and recommend friends based on similar preferences (ala for similar music preferences); the social networking play isn’t there yet, but there’s certainly a base for a network around content. To me, currently appears sparsely populated – I prefer that busy feeling that a horizontal gives, allowing me to discover a lot of content in one go. At the same time, the clean interface is comfortable. Singh said that they’re currently keeping it simple, and once launched, they’ll be rolling out new products and features on a regular basis.

Implications: for now, appears to be a massive meta-search and aggregator in the making; seems to be an attempt to make it the de-facto destination for searching for news, music, travel, videos, games and all kinds of classifieds. This move is distinctly different from some of the other Indian companies like Rediff, Indiatimes and Sify, who either tend to build their own verticals, or tie up with others. isn’t focusing on creating content, but is aggregating/enabling access to content of all types. That’s similar to what Google has done too with quite a few of their services. So I wouldn’t call it a horizontal portal.

User adoption will be key for, so expect a massive marketing effort in the coming months (post launch). Users will give leverage, and help close content-deals with large players. Once any of the larger players in this market (for example Bharatmatrimony for matrimonial) ties up and gets traffic from, other players like or might feel that they’re losing out by not signing up. But the key to this is for Web18 to be as neutral as possible, get as many users as possible, and maintain that perception of neutrality – for product search, it shouldn’t appear as if they’re favouring their own sites StoreGuru or HomeShop18. Also, I think something like this can also be pushed internationally, with tie-ups for separate countries, but Khiani says that they’re currently focused on India.

Cerius adds: In its current state ( and I do realize its a beta) its a massive mash-up of content, splicing feeds and databases. Some of Web 18’s biggest portfolio properties have been content driven, on the other hand, seems to place an emphasis on what’s going on under the hood.

News (Read). Unless its able to attract a user base which can curate the news flow, how differentiated is the News (Read) section, as say, compared to the localized Google/Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) news?

Listen, the audio streaming service with 27 labels on board, is by far one which addresses an immediate market gap of an indigenous online music experience. The only short-fall I see is that it has everyone, especially the anglicized, on board besides T-series (I presume it was the astronomical minimum guarantee), that’s -70% of the entire Hindi music industry.

The Mail fits in with the overall uncluttered design and I presume will be the thrust of their marketing activities to ensure an active repeat user base. How many will opt to switch or have it as their secondary co-ordinate remains to be seen.

While I would use the Find feature for something like Products (what about Storeguru and Compareindia?), the Matrimonial, Flights and Hotels services are only as valuable as the databases they mine. Missing out on websites with a considerable market share is a serious lack of comparative data, besides, will a generalized Search service compete with more focussed comparative engines like Makemytrip or Cleartrip?

Well I guess no ‘horizontal’ is complete without a gaming element, and considering the ad industry hype that Zapak has created, there could be plans for this to co-exist as the casual gaming arm of Tech2 .

A Mint article earlier in the day had Haresh Chawla, CEO, Network 18, stating Web18 might abandon plans for a listing in London’s Alternative Investment Market and go straight to Nasdaq. While its well known that their LAI listing was deferred due to the recent meltdown, might just be the flagship that can muster the valuation to ride the boats to Nasdaq. Considering the email service, an ubiquitous id across all the verticals maybe planned, with the ultimate spin-off being a social network. Even more, the domain by itself has enough traffic on the mere measure of its name, so expect the coming quarter results to feature a well highlighted spike in traffic.

17 Responses to “First Look At Web18s Horizontal Portal”

  1. Anshul

    Surprised to see their music lineup. Hard to digest that they got leading international and national labels sharing their music (without DRM? insecurely?)

  2. Lord Haw Haw


    I was waiting for Network18 to launch yet another company. it has been what? 2 months since their last one.

    The site is well executed, but will go nowhere? What is the point of this site, I will never know. If I can get iGoogle, why do I need to do this?

    and wait.. yet ANOTHER mail service. god…

    Do they seriously think they can take on Google in the aggregation space?

  3. For those of you who are curious about how much they paid for the domain. Before they acquired the domain I had an email convo with the previous owner on his asking price.

    It was a firm $4M for the domain. So I am sure they must have paid somewhere between $3M to $5M

  4. I am not sure about how successful the venture will be. Network18 group will have to push the portal aggressively to make an impact in the market. Jobstreet has been a laggard for the same reason. Storeguru, Yatra and Moneycontrol holds immense potential. I think the broking venture has been scrapped thanks to CBoP-HDFC merger. No doubt, they are launching portals one after other to push up the valuations of Web18. If I am nt wrong, Web18 holds just 20% of which will restrict the overall valuations to $1 bn. Lets see…

  5. Even I faced the same problem as what Amol has mentioned. I left my cell number twice and got the message that either I need to wait or enter another cell number. I got the invite code after 30 mins or so. As Amol suggested its better not to bank upon telecom operators when you are going live with your portal for the first time.
    The site has a great UI . I tried a search for air tickets. It seems apart from the official airlines sites Bezurk could get feeds from Akbar travels among the Indian service providers. The Akbar travel site is a no gooder. It was a sheer waste of time. Hopefully they will start getting feeds from other service providers soon

  6. insane man

    if creating a nice design and few pages of aggregated content could create USD 0.5 – 1 billion valuation, then i guess all of us would be building portals and not commenting on others. ;) i remember a snippet about Times Internet getting valued at USD 5 billion at the height of internet BOOOOOM

  7. Lijo Isac

    Cool Execution , Clutterless UI and an attractive domain name :) though logging into view the content is a turn off. Hopefully it will be removed after beta testing.

    Aggregation is the way to go – Since they are using an embed mod and because the entire content is stored on other people's websites, bandwidth, processing, and storage costs are going to be extremely low for

    How this is going to be integrated with other offerings from Web 18 will be very interesting? . Web 18 properties are heavily promoted through all their media channels and attract good traffic . If they are able to integrate a common ID across all their channels then user registration may not be an issue at all . Stickiness of users is going to be the issue though concept is very innovative .

  8. I tried getting the invitation code by entering my mobile number, waited for 10 min but didnt get the code on my mobile. After entering the same number once again it again said it has sent me the code. After a wait of 10 more min, I entered the same mobile number once again and this time I got a message saying that they have already sent me the code and that i should either wait or try another mobile number :-)
    Anyways! I tried with another mobile number but the saga continues.
    I think that portals in India should realise that relying on Indian mobile operators for something as critical as signups to their service is stupidity. If a portal requires to capture mobile numbers, then the best way is to have the mobile infrastructure under their control (install GSM modems OR get a short code from all operators OR lease a sot code from companies like ACL Wireless, Rediff, etc).