|Portals – The All-In-One Web Supersites: Features, Functions, Definitions, Taxonomy|
|Edition 3: Portals|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – May 18, 2001
If there is a buzz word around today, then it is "portal" - or more exactly "Web portal". Every company wants a portal, every major Internet software player wants to offer a portal - SAP is no exception to this. So, what is a portal?
If you want to learn about something, the easiest way today is to search the Web. Well, I'm not a spring chicken, and I confess that I once used voluminous encyclopedias to find answers to my questions. Now, however, I use an encyclopedia on the Web.
I went trustfully to the Google search engine, and here is my first search result for the term "portal" from the American National Standard for Telecommunications - Telecom Glossary 2000 (www.its.bldrdoc.gov/projects/telecomglossary2000):
Actually, I was a little bit puzzled by this definition. No mention of information, applications and services, which penetrate our marketing brochures. At a closer look, this definition is a little bit outdated and more a definition of where today's portals came from, that is, from search engines, such as Yahoo! or Altavista.
The Client Help Desk (www.clienthelpdesk.com/dictionary/internet_terms.html) offers a more up-to-date definition of a portal:
Finally I asked the internet.com Webopedia (www.webopedia.com) about what a Web portal is and found this answer:
OK, there is not much overlap between these definitions - one focuses on the entry point aspect, the other two on a mix of content or resources and services. Perhaps, I should go back to the original definition of what a portal is to get more insight.
I did that and thanks to a meta search engine (One Look Dictionary, www.onelook.com), which offers links to definitions of the given term provided by many online dictionaries, I finally got some helpful answers (I list only the relevant definitions, not the specialized ones, such as "portal vein"):
At least for the "classical" definitions of a portal, there is some overlap between the definitions: a portal is basically a large and imposing door or entrance to a building, or more generally, to something (the "something" is important for Web portals because otherwise we would have a problem - we live in a virtual world these days).
Now let's take a look at some of the portals around today and ask whether and how they comply with this definition. Let's begin with the Mewoo! portal: A huge categorized link list shows up with lots of blue underlined links and little decoration. Actually, it looks a little bit dull in my opinion, it's more the opposite of fancy. OK, since links are like doors, we have a page full of doors, sort of like an Advent calendar. And large it is, with lots of links, close to one hundred. But is it imposing and highly decorated? No, it is not. So, it's sort of a portal, but not as impressive as I expected.
Figure 1: The Mewoo! portal - many doors but not very inviting
Let's move over to the Parthenon portal. Very impressive! Huge columns, lots of decoration - you feel like a dwarf when you enter it. But inside there is nothing. So, it's basically imposing decoration with no content behind it. Again, it's sort of a portal, but not as useful as expected. Actually it's not even a Web portal, it's made of stone - sorry for tricking you.
Figure 2: The Parthenon portal - very impressive, but little content
Finally, let's look at our ideal portal, featuring information, applications and services. Is that a portal? Well, I am not so sure whether it is - or more exactly, whether it should be. Why? If a portal is just an entrance to these three things, that's too little to satisfy my needs. A portal should be intelligent - it should reflect my work. It should show changes to data, states, information, etc. that I effected when working with applications that I accessed through the portal. A good portal should not be a "one-way" channel, but should include a "feedback channel." It should be a transparent medium that reflects my work. With this in mind, should a portal really be a portal? I don't think so - it should be more than a portal. Suggestions for a new term are welcome.
By the way, the term "portal" has already sprouted new terms. One of the newer creations is "vortal" or "vertical portal" which by definition (from Webopedia) is
The Client Help Desk even mentions "horizontal portals" (e.g. Yahoo!, see above) adding that these are "all-purpose portals." So, are all non-vortals horizontal portals? Then these portals should be accordingly named "hortals" I thought. However, when I searched the Web for the term "hortal" I found mostly links to some Spanish or South American people. Has the term not yet been coined? OK, then I claim that this term has been invented by me!
PS: I would like to thank Carsten Lessmann for providing the notion of a portal as being intelligent and reflecting the user's work and Ramona Winkler for directing me towards Web portal definitions.