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A web portal is most often one specially-designed Web page which 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. Variants of portals include mashups and intranet "dashboards" for executives and managers. The extent to which content is displayed in a "uniform way" may depend on the intended user and the intended purpose, as well as the diversity of the content. Very often design emphasis is on a certain "metaphor" for configuring and customizing the presentation of the content and the chosen implementation framework and/or code libraries. In addition, the role of the user in an organization may determine which content can be added to the portal or deleted from the portal configuration.
A portal may use a search engine API to permit users to search intranet content as opposed to extranet content by restricting which domains may be searched. Apart from this common search engines feature, web portals may offer other services such as e-mail, news, stock quotes, information from databases and even entertainment content. Portals provide a way for enterprises and organizations to provide a consistent look and feel with access control and procedures for multiple applications and databases, which otherwise would have been different web entities at various URLs. The features available may be restricted by whether access is by an authorized and authenticated user (employee,member) or an anonymous site visitor.
Examples of early public web portals were AOL, Excite, Netvibes, iGoogle, MSN, Naver, Lycos, Indiatimes, Rediff, and Yahoo!. See for example, the "My Yahoo!" feature of Yahoo! which may have inspired such features as the later Google "iGoogle" (discontinued as of November 1, 2013.) The configurable side-panels of, for example, the modern Opera browser and the option of "Speed Dial" pages by most browsers continue to reflect the earlier "portal" metaphor.
In the late 1990s the web portal was a web IT buzzword. After the proliferation of web browsers in the late-1990s many companies tried to build or acquire a portal to attempt to obtain a share of an Internet market. The web portal gained special attention because it was, for many users, the starting point of their web browsing if it was set as their home page. The content and branding of a portal could change as internet companies merged or were acquired. 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.
Portals which relied on HTML iFrames gave rise to a need for web access points which either required frames or sites that had to offer non-frames alternatives. See: same-source policy in web browsers.
The interest in portals saw some old media companies racing to outbid each other for Internet properties but 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 and portals feature widely outside the English-speaking web (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Russian and other very popular sites not frequented by English-only users.) Portal metaphors are widely used by public library sites for borrowers using a login as users and by university intranets for students and for faculty. Vertical markets remain for ISV's offering management and executive intranet "dashboards" for corporations and government agencies in areas such as GRC and risk management.
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. A vertical portal (also known as a "vortal") is a specialized entry point to a specific market or industry niche, subject area, or interest. 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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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 aggregate results from several search engines into one page.
A tender portal is a gateway for government suppliers to bid on providing goods and services. Tender portals allow users to search, modify, submit, review and archive data in order to provide a complete online tendering process.
Using online tendering, bidders can do any of the following:
Hosted web portals gained popularity and 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 showcase what is possible using Enterprise Mashup and Web Service integration approaches to building cloud portals.
A number of portals have come about which 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.
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.
The application server or architecture performs most of the crucial 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 strategies.
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 design, security and concurrent user capacity can be important issues, and security designers need to ensure that only authenticated and authorized users can generate requests to the application server. If the security design and administration does not ensure adequate authentication and authorization, then the portal may inadvertently present vulnerabilities to various types of attacks.