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Livin' e-Vida

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What's the secret to reaching the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking, mostly Latin American Internet audience? Don't think of it as "the" audience. That's the lesson several Web portals and media companies are teaching as they take this very market by storm. Latin America, after all, isn't a single nation of common interests. Clearly, Mexicans have different norms and interests than Ecuadorians or Argentinans. And research indicates that many U.S. Latinos from those countries gravitate to material from their motherland when looking for Spanish content. With this in mind, Net leaders are reaching out to audiences of each nation, culture and/or ethnic group on their own terms.
Over the past three years, all manner of Spanish- and Portuguese-language Web sites have jostled for a share of the potentially explosive market stretching from Mexico and the Caribbean to Brazil. By year's end, analysts estimate, the market will amount to some 34 million Hispanic and Brazilian users, 90 percent of whom come from the middle- and upper-class brackets. And just wait until Internet penetration, now about 2 to 3 percent, rises in five years, as analysts predict. It's a market made of gold for any advertiser or business, as long as you know where to say Hola and where to say Oy.
These sites--ranging from the gargantuan Starmedia to the edgy Loquesea--represent the honchos of the pack. Almost all offer localized content and, in some cases, local Web brands for each country they serve. And almost all are working to build a position both in Latin American and Latino circles in the United States, combining rich content with interactive community features built around chat and ICQ. While design varies considerably and navigation isn't always easy, all offer the Latin American audience something a little different from your average English-language portal.
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StarMedia.com
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The Point: The mother of all Latino portals, offering a central community for intra- and cross-cultural dialogue for Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Latin America and the United States.
Statistics: Launched in 1997. Owned by Starmedia Inc., New York.
Target demo: Spanish and Portuguese speakers under 35 in major population capitals in Latin America and the United States.
Traffic: 1.7 billion page views (Q4 of '99).
Content: This portal may be the most comprehensive of its type, but the shear breadth of information can be both confusing and daunting. And don't expect too much heavy-hitting journalism. Most content is targeted to a young, hip audience more interested in rock stars than rock slides. The main URL directs you to the U.S. site, with all other Starmedia country sites accessible through links at the bottom of the page. Content, updated daily and/or weekly, varies widely from country page to country page. On the Argentina page late in June, for instance, lead stories dealt with local politics and the arts, while the Brazilian site featured more profile-oriented articles on Brazilian politicians and musicians. At the top of each country page, links take you to the meat of the portal: in-language e-mail; chat; personal pages; shopping; and search. The body carries Starmedia-generated content, including briefings and links to the latest news stories (found in the left column); "Hoy in Starmedia," (Destaques de Hoje for Brazil, middle column) provides feature stories from around the world, some produced in-house and many written by Reuters and other wires; "Copado!" for Argentina, "Cool" for the United States, or Chƒcalo for the Mexican site (right column) is dedicated to games, celebrity chats and more. Weather for the chosen country is prominently displayed in the lower-half of the page, as are links to Starmedia's shopping partners and to various search topics.
Look and feel: Consistency is the name of the game, and all country site layouts are basically identical; you'll know where you are by the country name listed in the top right-hand corner, or by the language. There's a good bit of white space, yet it still feels like you're being presented with lots of information.
Starmedia also has several other media properties, either acquired or built in conjunction with a partner, and these sites have a completely different look and feel from the Starmedia country sites. Pidemasonline.com, launched in conjunction with Pepsi-Cola last May, is targeted at teens, for instance, and combines many of Starmedia's features with a younger look and feel. Other brands include Cade, AdNet, LatinRed, Zeek!, Guia SP, OpenChile and Paisas.com.
Usability: Navigation is easy for newbies and experienced users alike.
Advertising opportunities: Sponsorships, banners, sweepstakes and co-branded sites are available. Strategic partners include Netscape Communications, RealNetworks, Billboard, Dell, Reuters, eBay, NBC, Hearst Communications and Fininvest. Starmedia takes pride in being a pure-play media company (it did, however, buy an ISP in Brazil recently), with advertising accounting for the bulk of its revenues.
Bottom line: A good start page onto the Net.
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El Sitio
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The Point: As they put it, "Your Place on the Net" for Spanish and Portuguese speakers looking for community and cool content.
Statistics: Launched in July 1997. Listed on the Nasdaq and headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Target demo: Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers under 30.
Traffic: 300 million page views (Q4 of '99).
Content: Whether it's news, community or commerce, this site delivers a slew of content. Unfortunately, it's a mishmash that at first glance seems difficult to navigate. Still, hang around and it grows on you after repeated use. Don't expect much investigative reporting here--site developers are more interested in the interactive and community aspects than anything else. A pop-up window on the homepage asks you to choose the country you live in, offering up Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay or "other," and automatically sets the content accordingly. The home page is sectioned into four big-
picture topics: Actualidad or Actualidade for Brazil (topic of the day); Entretiemento or Entertenimento for Brazil (entertainment); Tecnologia (technology); Relaciones (courtship). Two other sections, both unnamed, discuss sex and sports and appear to be regularly updated. A right-hand column offers links to more-selective sections, including: Mulher mulher (women); Relations y Pareja (love life); MP3; and Traducter (translation). The homepage also has links to features that include: Bla! Chat; Cupido (personals); E-mail gratis (free e-mail); El Sitio 3D (a 3D surfing environment); Batalla cybernaval (a cyber-war game); Negocios (a Web auction); Compras (shopping); and Astrologia (horoscope). A partner site called Sammysossa.com targeted at U.S. audiences offers sports news in English.
Look and feel: Attempts to make the site look cool and edgy also make it look messy.
Usability: If the design were more intuitive, navigation would be easier. That said, the depth of content makes up for at least part of the problem, as do the bylines some of the editors get--a rarity in many portal sites--which include their e-mail addresses, encouraging interaction.
Bottom line: A good source for community and content.
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Terra.com
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The Point: Wants to combine content and connectivity to become the leading portal for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.
Target demo: Adults in countries including Spain and Latin America.
Vital statistics: Launched 1997; 67 percent owned by Telefonica of Madrid, Spain, remainder publicly held.
Traffic: 1.2 billion page views (Q4 of '99).
Content: If the other sites are the punk music of the Latino Web, Terra would be its classical jazz. The site speaks to a more staid crowd with its sophisticated look and content that tends to be less shrill. On the homepage, content is relatively generic and tailored to an international audience. At the bottom of the page, links to each country and region site open a new browser window with more specific content. As with most of the sites, community comes before content in a series of links on homepage and country page along the left hand column, which tie to chat, voice chat, forums and classifieds. A series of alphabetically organized channels include: Cine (movies); Deportes (sports, including soccer and basketball); Economica (business and finance); and Immigration (all translated in Portuguese on the Brazil site). There are even some English language channels including immigration, Net2Dine (a dining service) and coverage of Hurricane season 2000, complete with survival tips.
With its $ 12.5 billion acquisition of Lycos in May, Terra.com may see some significant changes in content and services.
Look and feel: A clean, refined design that's intuitive and crisp. Photos are often black-and-white for a high-art look.
Usability: A total breeze to use. There aren't any bells and whistles here, which could make the site boring for some.
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Yupi.com
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The Point: Search, community and some content.
Statistics: Launched October 1997. Privately held, Miami Beach, Fla.
Target demo: Spanish speakers 35 and under.
Traffic: 143 million page views in February.
Content: The first thing you'll think when you see Yupi is "search engine" not "portal." Yupi is clean and intuitive, but decidedly not informative. The homepage is a well-organized series of links to other content. Key sections that link from the homepage are: Noticias (news); Yupi Mail (free e-mail); Chat; Traductor (translation); and Ayuda (help). A series of channels, Canales de Navigecion Yupi, have links to various sections with aggregated content, including news, travel, sports, religion and more, from various sources. Special partner sites include: Cuidad Futura (future health); Yupinitos (Yupi for kids); Yupitelefono (Internet phone); Mundo Pepsi; MujerFutura (future woman); and Amarillas.com (B2B auctions).
Look and feel: The look is clean, with intuitive links and navigation. Content, however, tends to be thin and unoriginal.
Usability: If you can use Yahoo! or some of the other search engines, you can use Yupi.
Bottom line: If you speak Spanish, this could be an ideal search engine. But if it's content you're looking for, some of the other sites have more to offer.
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Quepasa.com
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The Point: Wants to be the Internet portal for the 29.6 million Hispanic Americans in the United States.
Target demo: American Hispanics under 30.
Vital statistics: Launched in November 1998. Publicly owned by Quepasa.com, Phoenix, Ariz.
Traffic: 30 million pageviews (Q4 of '99).
Content: Quepasa is focused exclusively on reaching Hispanics in the United States You can view the site either in English or Spanish, and most of the content is related to Latino happenings in the United States or as they pertain to the United States. Unlike the other sites, Quepasa may seem more like an editorial than a community one. News and editorial content receive decidedly more play than chats and forums, and are accessible through links on the homepage. News coverage runs the gamut from Latino news in the United States and news from Latin America to world news. Like the other sites, Quepasa also offers such topical channels as health, business, shopping, entertainment and sports.
Look and feel: In comparison to the others, the site has a decidedly American feel, even in its Spanish-language incarnation. Site design is very clean with well thought-out placement of links and content. The bright yellow throughout the site, however, can get a bit loud.
Usability: Quepasa is a site in need of some spice.
Bottom line: While decidedly not tailored to an international audience, it doesn't appear to offer much more than what mainstream American sites can offer Latinos. Save for the chats and forums, there's not much there.
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loquesea.com
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The point: Wants to be the portal for young Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers.
Target demo: 20-somethings throughout Latin America.
Vital Statistics: Established 1998. Privately owned and based in Miami, Fla.
Traffic: Not available.
Content: Loquesea is hip, young, quirky and noisy. It makes its competitors look staid, with Power Puff-like illustrations and unique, no holds-barred topics. Upon entering the site, users dial-in what country they're from using pull-down menus rather than follow a link. (There's even an Espanglish section for half Spanish-half English speakers.) Content is served up accordingly, complete with regional accents and colloquialisms. The site's content is all about community, and what content it is. Consider: A section entitled "Instant Cama Sutra" presents the steps that will make you better in bed; Chicas Cam broadcasts the lives of Eve and Melic18, a "pair of chicas in Miami"; and Ganarama is an online trivial pursuit game that leaves little for the imagination.
Look and feel: It's somewhere between a rave and a rock concert. Site design exudes a frenetic feel that could be objectionable to some, but its energy is refreshing and dynamic.
Usability: If you're still there after the first click, you'll understand how to use it.
Bottom line: It's not for the staid at heart, but Loquesea offers a uniquely differentiated, well-marketed site with a flavor all its own. n