In general terms, a portal can be seen as “a door, gate or entrance” (Macquarie Library, 1981), and in its simplest form the word just means a gateway; however, it is often a gateway to somewhere other than just to the next room or street. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines a portal as “a doorway or gate etc, especially a large and elaborate one” (Pearsall & Trumble, 1996). In the context of this article, a Web portal is considered to be a special Internet (or intranet) site designed to act as a gateway to give access to other specific sites. A Web portal can be said to aggregate information from multiple sources and make this information available to various users (Tatnall, 2005c). It consists of a Web site that can be used to find and gain access to other sites, but also to provide the services of a guide that can help to protect the user from the chaos of the Internet and direct him or her toward a specific goal. More generally, however, a portal should be seen as providing a gateway not just to sites on the Web, but to all network-accessible resources, whether involving intranets, extranets, or the Internet. In other words, a portal offers centralised access to all relevant content and applications.
The Web-portal concept developed from search-engine sites such as Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos, which offered access to a large amount of general information and acted as general jumping-off points to the contents of large parts of the Web. These general portals then began offering extra services in addition to search capabilities (Rao, 2001) as the first step in their evolution. In an attempt to describe the early stages of this evolution of the general portal, Eckerson (1999) outlines four generations of portals whose focus, in each case, was on the generic, personalised, application, and role (Tatnall & Davey, 2007).
An early classification of portals had them being either horizontal or vertical (Lynch, 1998). The original portal sites mentioned above would have been considered horizontal portals because they were used by a broad base of users, whereas vertical portals were focused toward a particular audience. Davison, Burgess, and Tatnall (2004) offer the following list of portal types.
General portals provide links to all sorts of different sites of the user’s choosing. Many of these general portals have developed from being simple search tools (such as Yahoo), Internet service providers (such as AOL), and e-mail services (like Hotmail).
Vertical industry portals are usually based around specific industries. They aggregate information relevant to particular groups or online trade communities of closely related industries to facilitate the exchange of goods and services in a particular market as part of a value chain. They often specialise in business commodities and materials.
Horizontal industry portals are portals utilised by a broad base of users across a horizontal market. Horizontal industry portals are typically based around a group of industries or a local area.
Community portals are often set up by community groups, or based around special group interests. They attempt to foster the concept of a virtual community where all users share a common location or interest, and provide many different services depending on their orientation.
Enterprise information (or corporate) portal is the term being applied to the gateways to corporate intranets that are used to manage the knowledge within an organisation. These are designed primarily for business-to-employee processes and offer employees the means to access and share data and information within the enterprise.
E-marketplace portals often offer access to a company’s extranet services and are useful for business-to-business processes such as ordering, tendering, and supplying goods.
Personal or mobile portals are increasingly being embedded into mobile phones, wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants), and the like. Some appliances are also being equipped with personal portals aimed at allowing them to communicate with other appliances, or to be used more easily from a distance.
Information portals can be classified into one of the other categories; however, they can also be viewed as a category in their own right as portals whose prime aim is to provide a specific type of information.
Specialised or niche portals are designed to satisfy specific niche markets. In many cases, these can also be classified as information portals.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Community Portals: Often set up by community groups or based around special group interests, they attempt to foster the concept of a virtual community where all users share a common location or interest, and provide many different services.
Enterprise Information Portals: These are the gateways to corporate intranets that are used to manage knowledge within an organisation. They are designed primarily for business-to-employee processes and offer employees the means to access and share data and information within the enterprise.
Personal/Mobile Portals: These portals are embedded into mobile phones, wireless PDAs, appliances, and the like.
General (or Mega) Portals: General portals provide links to all sorts of different sites of the user’s choosing, often from a menu of options.
E-Marketplace Portals: They are extended enterprise portals that offer access to a company’s extranet services.
Horizontal Industry Portals: They are portals utilised by a broad base of users across a horizontal market.
Specialised/Niche Portals: They are portals designed to satisfy specific niche markets. Sometimes they provide detailed industry information, often available only for a fee.
Vertical Industry Portals: Usually based around specific industries, they aim to aggregate information relevant to these groups of closely related industries to facilitate the exchange of goods and services in a particular market as part of a value chain.
Web Portal: It is a special Internet (or intranet) site designed primarily as a gateway to provide access to other sites.
Information Portals: Information portals can also be viewed as a category in their own right as portals whose prime aim is to provide a specific type of information.