Online Eyeballs

Silicon Valley darlings MySpace and Facebook have earned headlines over the last year for their quick growth and their expansion into Latin America, where they hope to attract tens of millions of new members. But these social-networking powerhouses aren’t the only place where Latinos are parking their online eyeballs.

The big trend during the first dot-com boom of the late 1990s was online portals that created original content and aggregated information from other sites to make a one-stop-shop for Web surfers. Two of the largest geared to a Latino audiences have survived the ups and downs of a turbulent Internet industry as they’ve continued to grow and evolve: AOL Latino and Rather than trying to compete with every other portal out there, they’ve hooked up with other well-known sites, complementing the other places on the Web their audiences may go., which partners with the National Football League, CNET, Google and, also provides Spanish-language content through its own videos, discussion forums and news. According to Forrester Research, it’s the most-visited Spanish-language Web site among U.S. Latinos, with about 38 million visits a month. has built on the success of its popular discussion forums and its access to entertainment content to widen its reach into more specialized areas like advice for home buying, beauty tips, travel information and auto reviews. The company also owns Web sites in each of its major U.S. TV and radio markets as well as a Web site with local information for Puerto Rico. Its corporate parent Univision also makes available online some of its popular television programming like El Gordo y la Flaca as well as sporting and entertainment events like Copa America.

Rival AOL Latino incorporates AOL’s popular AIM chat and e-mail programs in Spanish, but also provides tools for its users to incorporate “widgets,” self-updating mini Web pages, that they can add to their Facebook or MySpace pages. Miguel Ferrer, the director of AOL Latino, says that the Web portal has grown by homing in on its users’ interests instead of trying to simply keep them glued to the site.

“We’re not limiting the movement of our audience to only what is AOL-branded,” Ferrer said, “ We recognize that our audience, just like us, participates in a very broad Internet. What are the other locations our audience goes to? We’re breaking down those barriers.”

A yearly online fashion contest called Fashionista and a political channel, Tu voto es tu futuro, have helped the site grow its traffic 88 percent from 2007 with monthly page views of 38.3 million. The number of visitors has grown 65 percent from last year to 1.685 million per month.

Both AOL Latino and have stepped up their offerings for social networking and user-generated content. Univision added the mobile service Móvil as well as the social networking service Mi Página, which allow its users to upload videos, post blogs and share photos. And AOL Latino engages its readers with quizzes, polls, music, games and other features associated with the AOL Time Warner brand.

Despite the weakened economy, Ferrer says his site has bucked the media trend: “In the Hispanic media space, there’s all this talk that we lag behind the general market in one way or another. We are seeing the opposite. We had a fallow period earlier in the year, and now we’re going through an acceleration.”

What don’t the big Latino portals offer? Specialized local content that isn’t generated by its own readers.

Many small Web sites may begin to fill that niche., an Austin-based entertainment site, is taking a hyper-local approach to attracting an audience. It’s staff of six posts photos from Austin nightclubs and quinceañeras, offers free classified ads and provides event and business listings. It launched in March and, though its numbers don’t come close to those of AOL Latino or, it is seeing exponential growth and has partnered with broadcast company BMP Radio. will try to survive on advertising and some private investment as it expands to other cities. Ignacio Moreno, marketing director of the start-up, notes: “We’re a culture that is very rich and social, and we want to see ourselves online and we want to connect.” He thinks local user reviews, write-ups of local bands, and articles generated by staff and freelancers provides local flavor the big international sites can’t.

“It’s easier to connect with people on a local level than it is from a big site,” Moreno said, “you really interact.”

By Omar L. Gallaga