A web portal is a website that brings information together from diverse sources in a uniform way. Usually, each information source gets its dedicated area on the page for displaying information (a portlet); often, the user can configure which ones to display.

Apart from the standard search engines feature, web portals offer other services such as e-mail, news, stock prices, information, databases and entertainment. Portals provide a way for enterprises to provide a consistent look and feel with access control and procedures for multiple applications and databases, which otherwise would have been different entities altogether.

History

In the late 1990s the web portal was a hot commodity. After the proliferation of web browsers in the late-1990s many companies tried to build or acquire a portal to have a piece of the Internet market. The web portal gained special attention because it was, for many users, the starting point of their web browser. Netscape became a part of America Online, the Walt Disney Company launched Go.com, IBM and others launched Prodigy, and Excite and @Home became a part of AT&T Corporation during the late 1990s. Lycos was said to be a good target for other media companies, such as CBS.

The portal craze, with old media companies racing to outbid each other for Internet properties, died down with the dot-com bust in 2000 and 2001. Disney pulled the plug on Go.com, Excite went bankrupt, and its remains were sold to iWon.com. Some portal sites such as Yahoo! and those others first listed in this article remain active.

Classification

Web portals are sometimes classified as horizontal or vertical. A horizontal portal is used as a platform to several companies in the same economic sector or to the same type of manufacturers or distributors.[1] A vertical portal (also known as a "vortal") is a specialized entry point to a specific market or industry niche, subject area, or interest.[2] Some vertical portals are known as "vertical information portals" (VIPs). VIPs provide news, editorial content, digital publications, and e-commerce capabilities. In contrast to traditional vertical portals, VIPs also provide dynamic multimedia applications including social networking, video posting, and blogging.

Types of web portals

Personal portals

A personal portal is a site on the World Wide Web that typically provides personalized capabilities to its visitors, providing a pathway to other content. It is designed to use distributed applications, different numbers and types of middleware and hardware to provide services from a number of different sources. In addition, business portals are designed for sharing and collaboration in workplaces. A further business-driven requirement of portals is that the content be able to work on multiple platforms such as personal computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and cell phones/mobile phones. Information, news, and updates are examples of content that would be delivered through such a portal. Personal portals can be related to any specific topic such as providing friend information on a social network or providing links to outside content that may help others beyond your reach of services. Portals are not limited to simply providing links. Information or content that is placed on the web may create a portal in the sense of a path to new knowledge and capabilities.

News portals

The traditional media rooms all around the world are fast adapting to the new age technologies. This marks the beginning of news portals by media houses across the globe. This new media channels give them the opportunity to reach the viewers in a shorter span of time than their print media counterparts.

Government web portals

At the end of the dot-com boom in the 1990s, many governments had already committed to creating portal sites for their citizens. These included primary portals to the governments as well as portals developed for specific audiences. Examples of government web portals include:

Cultural portals

Cultural portal aggregate digitised cultural collections of galleries, libraries (see: library portal), archives and museums. This type of portals provides a point of access to invisible web cultural content that may not be indexed by standard search engines. Digitised collections can include books, artworks, photography, journals, newspapers, music, sound recordings, film, maps, diaries and letters, and archived websites as well as the descriptive metadata associated with each type of cultural work. These portals are usually based around a specific national or regional groupings of institutions. Examples of cultural portals include:

  • DigitalNZ – A cultural portal led by the National Library of New Zealand focused on New Zealand digital content.
  • Europeana – A cultural portal for the European Union based in the National Library of the Netherlands and overseen by the Europeana Foundation.
  • Trove – A cultural portal led by the National Library of Australia focused on Australian content.
  • In development - Digital Public Library of America

Corporate web portals

Corporate intranets became common during the 1990s. As intranets grew in size and complexity, webmasters were faced with increasing content and user management challenges. A consolidated view of company information was judged insufficient; users wanted personalization and customization. Webmasters, if skilled enough, were able to offer some capabilities, but for the most part ended up driving users away from using the intranet.

Many companies began to offer tools to help webmasters manage their data, applications and information more easily, and through personalized views. Portal solutions can also include workflow management, collaboration between work groups, and policy-managed content publication. Most can allow internal and external access to specific corporate information using secure authentication or single sign-on.

JSR168 Standards emerged around 2001. Java Specification Request (JSR) 168 standards allow the interoperability of portlets across different portal platforms. These standards allow portal developers, administrators and consumers to integrate standards-based portals and portlets across a variety of vendor solutions.

The concept of content aggregation seems to still gain momentum and portal solution will likely continue to evolve significantly over the next few years. The Gartner Group predicts generation 8 portals to expand on the Business Mashups concept of delivering a variety of information, tools, applications and access points through a single mechanism.[citation needed]

With the increase in user generated content, disparate data silos, and file formats, information architects and taxonomist will be required to allow users the ability to tag (classify) the data. This will ultimately cause a ripple effect where users will also be generating ad hoc navigation and information flows.

Corporate Portals also offer customers & employees self-service opportunities.

Stock portals

Also known as stock-share portals, stock market portals or stock exchange portals are Web-based applications that facilitates the process of informing the share-holders with substantial online data such as the latest price, ask/bids, the latest News, reports and announcements. Some stock portals use online gateways through a central depository system (CDS) for the visitors (ram) to buy or sell their shares or manage their portfolio.

Search portals

Search portals aggregate results from several search engines into one page.

Tender's portals

Tender's portals stands for a gateway to search/modify/submit/archive data on tenders and professional processing of continuous online tenders.
With a tender portal the complete tendering process—submitting of proposals, assessment, administration—are done on the web.
Electronic or online tendering is just carrying out the same traditional tendering process in an electronic form, using the Internet.
Using online tendering, bidders can do any of the following:
    • Receive notification of the tenders.
    • Receive tender documents online.
    • Fill out the forms online.
    • Submit proposals and documents.
    • Submit bids online.

Hosted web portals

Hosted web portals gained popularity a number of companies began offering them as a hosted service. The hosted portal market fundamentally changed the composition of portals. In many ways they served simply as a tool for publishing information instead of the loftier goals of integrating legacy applications or presenting correlated data from distributed databases. The early hosted portal companies such as Hyperoffice.com or the now defunct InternetPortal.com focused on collaboration and scheduling in addition to the distribution of corporate data. As hosted web portals have risen in popularity their feature set has grown to include hosted databases, document management, email, discussion forums and more. Hosted portals automatically personalize the content generated from their modules to provide a personalized experience to their users. In this regard they have remained true to the original goals of the earlier corporate web portals. Emerging new classes of internet portals called Cloud Portals are showcasing the power of API (Application Programming Interface) rich software systems leveraging SOA (service oriented architecture, web services, and custom data exchange) to accommodate machine to machine interaction creating a more fluid user experience for connecting users spanning multiple domains during a given "session". Leading cloud portals like Nubifer Cloud Portal: [1] showcase what is possible using Enterprise Mashup and Web Service integration approaches to building cloud portals.

Domain-specific portals

A number of portals have come about that are specific to the particular domain, offering access to related companies and services, a prime example of this trend would be the growth in property portals that give access to services such as estate agents, removal firm, and solicitors that offer conveyancing. Along the same lines, industry-specific news and information portals have appeared, such as the clinical trials specific portal: IFPMA Clinical Trials Portal

Engineering aspects

The main concept is to present the user with a single web page that brings together or aggregates content from a number of other systems or servers. For portals that present application functionality to the user, the portal server is in reality the front piece of a server configuration that includes some connectivity to the application server. Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is one example of how a portal can be used to deliver application server content and functionality. The application server or architecture performs the actual functions of the application. This application server is in turn connected to database servers, and may be part of a clustered server environment. High-capacity portal configurations may include load balancing equipment. SOAP, an XML-based protocol, may be used for servers to communicate within this architecture.

The server hosting the portal may only be a "pass through" for the user. By use of portlets, application functionality can be presented in any number of portal pages. For the most part, this architecture is transparent to the user.
In such a scheme, security and capacity can be important features, and administrators need to ensure that only an authorized visitor or user can generate requests to the application server. If administration does not ensure this aspect, then the portal may inadvertently present vulnerabilities to various types of attacks.