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Internet Portal Businesses

Well, where to start? Seems like there is lots of technical terms on the Internet that people fling about in articles without knowing if others really understand what they are talking about. The more you look for definitions, the more points of view you run across. How to spoil your day with seven different definitions for one thing! No wonder people get confused on the Internet.  

Let's try and deal with some of the confusion, and give you a working idea of what a portal is, and we'll move on from there.

In most cases, a portal is known as a web access point made up of web pages used as a starting point for using the Web, or using web-based services. This was actually the original definition, and was used when referring to sites that belonged to AOL, MSN and Yahoo! (by the way, these three giants are still the major general purpose Web portals) To clarify this, these were (and are) Internet access providers/search engines – hence "portal" to the whole web. If you want to get even more visual – think Star Trek and a black hole with the Starship Enterprise slipping through the portal to another dimension or planet.

Put another way, it's a web site itself that is supposed to be an entry point to the World Wide Web, that typically offers a search engine, and/or links to useful pages, and in some instances perhaps news or other services. You could even call a portal a super site with services like Web search, news, free e-mail, discussion groups, shopping and links to other sites.

The services on/at the portal are usually free. Why is that? The idea is to hopefully have users make the site their default home page. If not the home page then at least visit the site frequently. We have already pointed out earlier that Yahoo! and MSN are popular examples used frequently today. Chances are, you may even have MSN has your default home page

The raison d'etre for most portals, is to function as a money making proposition for their creators – as the result of advertising. Some may be only for a specific group of users and a part of an intranet or extranet.

•    Intranet - being a private network inside an organization using the same software found on the Internet.
•    Extranet - being a private network that uses Internet protocols and public Telcos (telephone companies) to share business information/operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers, or other businesses.

On the other hand, you will also find portals that only deal with one subject like medicine. If they deal with one subject, they are generally called vortals.

As with many things on the Internet, the definition of portal evolved into the corporate world and meant a corporate/enterprise information portal. Meaning, it was a starting point for employees to get company information and/or applications.

And now, ta da! Portal software. This innovation is a distinct class of web server that functions as a platform for marshalling/organizing portals. Quickie example: Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) whose aim is to automatically include services in portals. Portlets are reusable Web components that show relevant information to portal users. Portlet examples are: Email, Weather, Discussion forums, News.


•    Personal portal
A Web portal customized for personal use. Users create a personal home page and display the information they want on the page – for instance news and stock quotes.  If there's e-mail, a link to it is on the personal page.  Yahoo!, Excite, Netscape, Microsoft and Google have personalized home pages for their users. Yahoo! and Netscape offer My Yahoo! and My Netscape. Excite offers My Page, Google calls it the Personalized Home Page and Microsoft's calls theirs Windows Live. If you have been on the Internet for a number of years, you may remember that before the Web as we know it today, there was Compuserve.  Compuserve and AOL (then) functioned as portals.

•    Vortal
As you likely suspected, vortal is a combination of two words, vertical and portal. This type of portal provides news and articles for a specific industry, like banking. It may also have other general information such as top news stories and weather.

•    Corporate Portal
This is an internal web site (intranet) for a company/corporation specifically for the use of employees to find information they need. It will likely provide access to other public web sites and the sites of vendors and suppliers. Normally there is a search engine for internal company documents. Employees can customize their page either individually or as a user group. If you were thinking this sounds like a general purpose portal, you'd be right.

•    Business Intelligence Portal
This is a corporate portal that lets users query and produce reports based on databases for their company.

•    E-Commerce Portals
The best explanation of what an e-commerce portal is involves actually visiting a couple to get a good visual fix on what they look like. Two major e-commerce portals you will likely know just by name are ebay.com and amazon.com.

•    Information Resource Portals
Give researchers access to large collections of records of a particular kind. e.g. experiments or simulations performed, observations done, photographs taken, etc. Cross searching multiple related collections is an important goal of these portals.

•    Institutional Portals
Provide information about an institution and its services, usually education - to staff, students, customers and others that need access to such a portal.

•    E-Learning, Awareness and Training Portal
Guides students through a structured learning experience by delivering course material. These portals test students' abilities in the form of quizzes.

•    Collaboration Portals
This is a really new area and as yet software has not been developed for this type of portal.  Watch for new developments in the future.

•    Grid Information Portals
Provide information about Grid resources (computers, databases, instruments) and their capabilities.    

•    Grid Application Portals
Provide mechanisms to access active services. For example – authentication and personal workspace management

•    Entertainment Portals
Normally all members of an entertainment portal direct its content - the type of entertainment available to visitors to the site. e.g.  Hollywood and Bollywood Entertainment Portal

•    Environmental Portals
Developed to raise awareness about Environmental Indicators.  e.g. EcoEarth.Info Environment Portal

•    Investment Portals
A resource for global and industry specific markets e.g. Site-By-Site! The International Investment Portal & Research Center

•    B2B and B2C Portals
Business to business portals (B2B) provide buyers and sellers details about various products etc. and connect businesses worldwide. Business to Consumer (B2C) portals sell goods directly to customers.

•    Mini Portals
Based on local interests, edited and maintained by individuals. Do do not provide the same services as major portals. A good place for pooling ideas for people with similar interests.

•    Voice Portals
Voice sites accessed through voice browsers.

•    Shopping Portals
One stop shopping portals where you can search through products and reviews e.g. Shopping Portal - Shop.Bltg.com

•    Combination Portals
A combination of web services and web 2.0 techniques that combines portals on one site. Web 2.0 is an ongoing transition of the WWW from a collection of websites to a computing platform serving web applications to end users.  An example of such a site is InfoBuoy.

•    Portal Server
A network server that marshals portal services to a public Web site or internal intranet. It is also an application to develop, deliver and maintain a Web portal using things like user authentication, ID management etc.


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