A year ago or so, I briefly got into the habit of asking people if they’d heard of the “Go Network,” and if so, what they thought of it. Many had heard of it. After all, Go’s name seemed to be everywhere for a while–soap operas, movies, news shows, sports shows, it was all “Part of the Go Network!” I was working in Times Square at the time, and from the 11th-floor cafeteria of my building you could see a good-sized billboard featuring nothing but the Go logo.
Almost no one I asked, however, knew what the Go Network actually was, so I wasn’t particularly surprised to hear earlier this year that the Walt Disney Co. had decided to do away with the Go Network altogether. Basically, Go was Disney’s grand Internet play: The company had rolled up the old Infoseek search engine site and tried to turn it into a portal that would somehow “leverage” all the great brands that Disney owns: Not just the characters and films from the core Disney stable, but also ESPN, ABC News, ABC’s sitcoms and soaps, etc. But while each of those brands stands for something very specific on its own, the Go Network, by mushing them altogether, stood for nothing of any meaning to consumers. That’s why Disney got rid of it.
Well, Disney sort of got rid of it. The spin-off stock that tracks Disney’s Internet properties is now called Disney Internet Group, and the company has stopped chirping about the “Go Network” at every opportunity. But Go.com itself has recently been relaunched. Somewhat confusingly, www.go.com takes you to the old site, but if you click a banner ad there, you can visit a “beta” version of the new one.
Certainly the new Go.com looks better, but the same old question lingers: What, exactly, is it? The theory is that Go.com is a “Web guide,” focused on entertainment and leisure. In practice, it’s still something of a hodgepodge. There’s a mess of links, and many are related to entertainment (broadly defined) but certainly not all of them. The centerpiece still seems to be the search engine, and the overall look and feel is of a Yahoo!-style portal. There’s a link for autos, for stocks, for weather; you can get e-mail, a home page, maps, or a Web calendar; “find your ancestors,” suggests one link; and, needless to say, there is also chat. Along the bottom is a list of “Go.com partners”: ABC.com, ABCNews.com, Disney.com, ESPN.com, Family.com, Movies.com, Mr. Showbiz, and Wall of Sound.
What’s the point? I can see why each of those “partner” sites would attract an audience, but what is the advantage to the “partnership” itself? The search engine is rigged to make the most of the partners’ content, so that if you type in “Britney Spears,” you get some basic info directly from Wall of Sound (a music site) as well as a list of links. A “Sprewell” search similarly gets you a little ESPN content plus links. I guess this is sort of useful, but my suspicion is that most Web searchers are more interested in comprehensiveness.
Certainly it makes sense for Disney’s various sites to, say, share ad sales resources. It even makes sense for their aggregate business to be tracked by one stock. But Go.com as a proposition for consumers remains roughly equivalent to a Procter & Gamble retail store: Sure, you could go to such a place (if it existed) to buy Tide, but why would you? Chances are your loyalty is to the Tide brand, and if detergent is what you need, then you couldn’t care less what else Procter & Gamble might have to offer. It’s similarly hard to imagine that Joe the General Hospital fan and Jane the SportsCenter fan have any particular interest in the common corporate parentage of their favorite shows.
Few companies have been as shrewd at Disney at creating and managing brands. But lumping them together under the meaningless Go.com banner doesn’t do anything to enhance the company’s good brands–it just buries them beneath a dumb one.