Hong Kong's wealth of financial portals shows a need for consolidation
Of all the dull and uninspired ideas to have appeared during Hong Kong's brief fling with the dotcom craze, the most uninspired but imitated is the financial portal.
The concept took no imagination. A couple of years ago, everyone wanted to be a portal. They did their best to hire reasonable designers and to copy the best features from other portals, but it soon became apparent that most portals did not make money.
The investors went back to the drawing board. After analysing the market, they realised the truth. It was not their fault at all. They had done nothing wrong, it was the users' fault. The visitors were too cheap.
Overnight, half of Hong Kong's Internet firms set out to relaunch their dull and generic consumer Web portals as dull and generic financial portals.
In place of the general news, downloads, forums, freemail, links and delayed stock quotes would come financial news, downloads, forums, freemail, links and delayed stock quotes.
Our financial portals are not all bad. Thanks to an early start, Hong Kong is streets ahead of most Asian cities in the quality of online analysts. But we do have too many portals, with little to distinguish most.
Now that most local online brokerages, such as Cash Online and Boom.com, provide a wide range of financial news and tools, the time seems appropriate for consolidation. One of the biggest of the generics is Finet Online, at www.e-finet.com. Offering all the standard stock prices, financial news wires, jobs, portfolio and investment tools, Finet stays strictly by the build-your-own portfolio instruction manual.
It is a good site though, updated daily with comprehensive Hong Kong investment news and advice.
The most interesting part is the 'Tea House' section, where visitors can get together to spread rumours and gossip.
Like Finet, Quamnet is a major local site, with virtually identical offerings. Aimed primarily at stock traders, it has a good range of tools to help investors track and analyse their stock performance. Quamnet's most valuable feature is its columnists. Though the site boasts five experienced analysts, only two - Tony Measor and Stephen Vines - seem to still be on the payroll. The other three - Chan Wing-luk, Stuart Wolfendale and the Sunday Morning Post's K L Law - have not contributed a word since May.
AsiaFinance.com also offers a good selection of columnists to bolster its wide range of news and investment tools. As its name implies, AsiaFinance looks beyond Hong Kong and is doing its best to become an Asian portal. One different selling point is that the site mixes old and new media by producing its own hard-copy magazine.
Canada's Stockhouse.com operates a chain of six global financial portals, with one in Hong Kong.
While Stockhouse.com.hk does generate good local content and has all the usual investment tools, its main strength is as a consolidator. The site collects news stories from Web sites around the world which it then posts, or links to. It is not much of a plan, but for now it works.
One good site that still deserves to be consolidated is HK Growth. The little gem, at www.hkgrowth.com, actually devotes itself to Hong Kong's much-loved and valued Growth Enterprise Market (GEM).
HK Growth is an easy site to get around, with some good tools and analysis, but judging by the GEM's performance to date, do we really need Web sites dedicated to this one, feeble market?
For my money, the most enjoyable local financial news site is the Webb Site, at www.webb-site.com. Though it is not strictly a portal, this one-man operation, written and maintained by maverick financial analyst David Webb, is as close to the edge as you will find.
Mr Webb goes to great pains to tear his victims apart and provides an e-mail newsletter to let you know whenever the site is updated - usually once a week.
AsiaWise is another maverick financial news service and the newest kid in town. Although the site has not been launched yet, by signing up at www.asiawise.com you can get twice-weekly news updates via a free newsletter.
Like the Webb Site, AsiaWise is generally well-written, hard-hitting and cynical, particularly when kicking the stuffing out of anything with a dotcom suffix to its name.
The aggression can be disturbing at times, with some recent columns letting balance give way to plain old abuse.