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Previously in Web Citations:

Beta-testing the Bible

Not just another digital-age prophecy.

Break on Through

Portal, n. 1. A door, gate, or entrance; esp: a grand or imposing one.

Digital Sunlight, Digital Shadows

Using the Web to shine light on campaign financing is supposed to make elections more honest. If only.

A Little Help From My ... Friends?

Hey, it worked with Linux. Enlisting the aid of countless strangers is a strategy that's catching on.

Biotech at the Barricades

Some would say the avant-garde is dead.This avant-garde wants to live forever.

Dharma Geeks

Sure, there's Buddhism on the Net, but maybe the Net itself is Buddhist.

Revisions of Slavery

What the Web accomplishes that neither Hollywood filmmakers nor PBS documentarists can.

Liberty and Linux for All

Microsoft's worst nightmare may not be a courtroom in Washington, D.C.

Everything for Sale

In the world of online auctions, anything (and everything) goes on the block.

The Numbers Game

Baseball's days as our national pastime may be numbered.


On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Unified Mouse Theory
December 17, 1998

Disney.com The Walt Disney Corporation is really too inviting a cultural target for critical marksmanship. It's not that taking shots at the Empire of the Mouse isn't fair; it's just that scoring hits on what The Industry Standard memorably termed the "Disney Archipelago" doesn't take a whole lot of effort.

News of Disney's venture with Infoseek to enter the Internet-portal business should come as no surprise. Disney's timing seems perfect. America Online, Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, HotBot, MSN, and assorted other portal and search-engine enterprises have been duking it out for several years now. With the beta release of its GO Network this past Monday -- a preview of the official rollout planned for January -- Disney is entering the fray at a juncture when the rules (if this game can be said to have any) are apparently being codified. No longer a strict function of search-engine voodoo or eyeball-grabbing ad banners, portals have developed a raison d'être, functioning much like encyclopedias-cum-cable-networks. Their mission is not simply to capture visitors' short attention spans, but to develop information addictions by combining once disparate activities -- watching TV, reading the newspaper, going to the library -- in a single context. Portal users, for their part, now have a better idea of what to expect.

GO Network And Disney has a pretty good idea of what it wants: a solid foothold at a point where the new media clearly intersect with the future of consumer desire. Even a quick glance at the "preview edition" of Go reveals a decided Disney bias; the Web directory for "Entertainment" lists Disney-owned Mr. Showbiz, and Disney.com itself, among the top four Web sites. The listings under "Animation" show a refreshing variety, but the page maintains an ad banner for the Bug's Life CD-ROM action game, and a default search within the "animation" category finds Pixar (the studio that co-produced A Bug's Life with Disney) among the top sites retrieved. No one is going to shock (or shame) Disney by suggesting that its worldview is reductive -- Disney likes the idea that it's a cultural juggernaut, that its properties are virtually impossible to avoid. Guilt doesn't float in Disneyland. Constant anxiety, however, does: even though everyone seems to be getting more and more comfortable with the Web as a template for the commercial future, it hasn't been around long enough for our current entertainment colossuses to feel that they can easily incorporate it into their operations.

ABC.com Naturally, any company as hip to the shifts of consumer psychology as Disney is would want a piece of the e-commerce action. There are already several Internet fiefdoms in the Magic Kingdom, and embedding the Disney chip in every shopper's brain is now high on the list of the company's priorities. The hookup with Infoseek and the corralling of the formerly quasi-independent ABCNews.com and ESPN SportsZone under a single rubric crosses a new threshold. Disney is announcing that it takes the Web seriously and that it wishes to move beyond simply maintaining sites that consumers are ushered toward via somebody else's portal. After all, why rely on unpredictable outside servers to decide whether your content rates attention when you can perform the gatekeeping function yourself? This is, appropriately, a Disneyfied version of what the Web experience should be: the Internet itself may be eclectic and chaotic but, rest assured, Disney remains constant.

This march toward a Unified Mouse Theory of the Web may be based as much on fear as on savvy. "We want to be a relevant company," Michael Eisner, Disney's chairman, said recently, referring to the Go Network launch. Disney's might is awesome, but the company seems to recognize that its status as the pre-eminent entertainment conglomerate might decline if it fails to transform at least a piece of itself into a marketing, or "desire," conglomerate. This is the direction in which the portal business appears to be moving, and, as Eisner has made clear, no one at Disney wants to commit the classic error that the railroads committed when faced with air travel -- considering themselves in the train, not the transportation, business. Just like almost every other aspect of Web culture, portals love standardization. Disney is the greatest standardizer of popular culture America has yet produced. It may turn out to be a small World Wide Web, after all.

--Matthew DeBord

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Matthew DeBord is a contributing editor at FEED.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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