What’s a portal for in the mobile age? Sina searches its soul

As I wrote this week, users who now engage with online services more through smartphone than desktop threaten those services that don’t yet have a firm mobile business strategy in place.

But there’s one category of company for which that goes double – ye olde web portal.

“How can we become the ‘entrance’ to the mobile internet?,” Wang Gaofei, vice chair of Chinese portal Sina, asks (Sohu via TechInAsia).

“We’re all bewildered by that, and we’re anxious or perhaps even frightened by it.

“If we can’t become that ‘entrance’, then the value of our business and our market share will not change significantly.”

Web portals used to provide the single, all-encompassing on-ramp to a world of online content options.

But that was when the internet was a thing for connecting to, rather than an always-on part of the fabric of our lives. Now that every pocket contains a connected device, usage is becoming more specifically goal-oriented and app-centric.

At least Sina has a mobile-first service that’s growing fast. Its Weibo microblog service has many times more users than Sina’s portal mobile app. Over the last year, desktop and mobile have traded about 14 percent of Weibo’s platform user share, such that, now, 52 percent of its users are on smartphones, Sina’s Wang says (Sohu via TechInAsia). That is broadly in line with western peer Twitter, which gets about 60 percent of its users on mobile.

Each has nascent advertising sales operations. The upshot for Wang appears to be this – Sina must make this new, mobile-first business lucrative, lest it be left an alternative to the portal that mobile killed.