First Look At Web18s Horizontal Portal In.com

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 In.com for beta testing. I met Rishi Khiani (COO, Web18) and Varun Singh, (CTO, Web18) yesterday for a sneak peek at In.com. 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:

In.com  PlayIn.com   Listen   Home
In.com   ProductsIn.com   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 Alltop.com. 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, Blip.tv, 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 Bharatmatrimony.com, Hamarijodi.com, LifepartnerIndia.com and WebIndia123 and product search tie-ups with Storeguru, Gadgets.in, 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 Last.fm 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, In.com 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, In.com 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. In.com 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 In.com, so expect a massive marketing effort in the coming months (post launch). Users will give In.com 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 In.com, other players like Shaadi.com or Jeevansathi.com 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, In.com 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, In.com 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.

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