Salon Newsletters- Sign Up Today!

 


Navigation Salon Salon Technology print email
Arts & Entertainment
Books
Comics
Health & Body
Media
Mothers Who Think
News
People
.Technology
Travel
Columnists

 

Also Today

For a full list of today's Salon Technology stories, go to the Technology home page.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

You could win a Color TV!

- - - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Recently in Salon Technology

Words in your ear
Audible's digital Walkman delivers on-demand spoken-word programming -- but only in limited doses.

By Janelle Brown
[05/03/99]

Silicon Follies
Chapter 14: Programming in vampire mode -- or, the long dark night of the code

By Thomas Scoville
[05/01/99]

The millennium bug bill battle
The tech industry's Washington lobby tries to play both sides of the aisle. Is it being pragmatic -- or just naive?

By Jake Tapper
[04/30/99]

Mod love
With their ears, their computers and a little code, "mod trackers" build their own worlds of sound.

By Andrew Leonard
[04/29/99]

The Web numbers game
Everyone in the Web industry seems to agree that Media Metrix's numbers are incomplete. So why have they become a standard?

By Kaitlin Quistgaard
[04/28/99]

Complete archives for Technology

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Emporium
Fall blowout sale!

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Technology
by e-mail
Sign up here to receive our weekly e-mail newsletter listing recent and upcoming articles and events in Technology.

 
Unsubscribe

- - - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - - - -

barnesandnoble.com

Save up to 40% at barnesandnoble.com
Find books up to 40 percent off!




Rosenberg

Pathfinder, we hardly knew ye
The demise of Time Warner's megasite provides a caution to today's portals -- and a clue to the cable takeover wars.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Let's get this straight | By Scott Rosenberg

May 4, 1999 | Time Warner's Pathfinder was -- and, for a brief while longer, remains -- such a muddle of a Web venture that even its recent obituaries couldn't quite pin down how to describe it.

"A pioneering outpost in cyberspace," the New York Times labeled it. News.com, which first reported the details of Time Warner's plans to dismantle Pathfinder last week, referred to it as "the media company's giant, long-beleaguered pre-portal site." Over on the Channelseven site for advertising and marketing news, a writer even dubbed it "Time Warner's search engine."

You know you're in trouble if you've been in business four and a half years, spent tens of millions of dollars, been the subject of endless thumb-sucking media reports -- and people still don't even know what to call you.

Time Warner's many goofs in launching and steering Pathfinder have been well chronicled. While one arm of its empire was placing a big bet on the folly known as the "full service network" -- an interactive-TV experiment in Orlando, Fla. -- the corporation was also putting its money into the Web in a serious way. That itself was smart -- but it was the Pathfinder project's last sign of intelligence.

Time Warner set out with one massive misconception: It decided to organize a consumer-oriented Web site around its corporate org chart rather than its established brand names like Time, People and Fortune. Somehow Web users were supposed to figure out that if they wanted to go to any publication or site owned by Time Warner, from Dr. Ruth and Dr. Weil to CNN, CNNfn and CNNSI, they should visit www.pathfinder.com -- as if the average Web user bothers to keep up with the latest plays in big media's game of Monopoly.

Time New Media vice president Jeffrey Coomes explained to the Times last week that "the decision to dismantle Pathfinder was based on the fact that most consumers go directly to the individual magazine sites and skip the Pathfinder home page." Uh, of course. That people would do so was obvious back in 1994 to anyone with the slightest understanding of Web navigation -- yet the news apparently took four years to percolate through the Time Warner hierarchy.

What were they thinking all that time? As the wags who have assembled the tongue-in-cheek Pathfinder Museum site put it in a mocking tribute: "It is our firm belief that someday, people will begin to re-appraise the Great Content Aggregation Movement of the mid-1990s, and see the true genius of its major thinkers, who conceived Pathfinder as an all-encompassing umbrella and executed it using the best 20th century management techniques available. They came, they saw, they aggregated, but they ultimately failed to win the hearts and minds of the Internet's fickle, ungrateful usership."

Time Warner compounded its initial mistake with a series of smaller missteps. Its execs bought in to the notion that advanced technology and fancy graphics would lure the Web masses, and they watched helplessly as their slow-to-load home page and bug-ridden special features languished while the simple, text-only Yahoo soared to become the Web's most popular site.

Pathfinder's woes are legendary, and its drawn-out death throes have long been predicted. But its fate isn't only an indication of one media behemoth's folly: It's a grim warning to all the other "portal" sites out there today, sitting pretty on high stock valuations and thinking that they know the Web business better than Time Warner did.

 Next page | Is Go.com tomorrow's Pathfinder? -- and why everyone has AOL envy



 

Salon..Search..Archives..Contact Us..Table Talk..Newsletter..Ad Info..Investors..Membership..

Arts & Entertainment | Books | Columnists | Comics | Health & Body
Media | Mothers Who Think | News | People | Technology | Travel

Copyright © 1999 Salon.com All rights reserved.