An Internet portal is a website that provides an added-value entry point or gateway to the Internet. Common added-value services are mechanisms to search the Web (search engines), directories, news, financial information, and links to related websites (but see below - the range of services is widening!)
Such portals can have a significant influence on the ways in which people access information on the web. Many stick with the first portal they use (often provided by their Internet Service Provider - ISP) since it offers convenience and familiarity.
The major Internet portals have formed partnerships with information or content providers. This enables them to provide quick access to information on the main portal page (ensuring that users do stick with the portal). This has extended to the provision of other services such as free email, conferencing, and chat forums - offering a kind of 'one stop, first step' access.
Email has the great advantage (for the portal provider) of ensuing that users return regularly and often. For commercial portals to be viable they need to be part of a process of raising revenue. This is most commonly through advertisements placed around the main portal page (banner advertising at the top being the most common) and through commission on e-commerce conducted directly via the portal or by users passed to a shopping site by the portal.
Another key feature of the best portals is customisation - the portal allows the user to set parameters and preferences which dictate the actual content on the page. For example, the user can state the sports in which he/she is interested and get sports news specific to those sports only. A popular example is the ability to set up a share portfolio so that each time the portal is accessed, the main page gives details of share price/movement for the shares within the user's own portfolio.
Within an organisation, the technology of the Internet portal can be used on the company Intranet to offer added-value information services. Again, where the content can be customised, the user can get direct access to information of specific relevance or interest.
On such organisational sites, the customisation may be of two types, essentially top-down and bottom-up.
Top-down customisation is customisation according to the job role of the individual - the company determines that specific information should be presented on the customised portal because it is seen as being of specific relevance. For example, in a local government setting, local councillors on accessing the portal would have information presented relevant to the committees and other agencies with which they are involved.
Bottom-up customisation is that determined by the individual according to interest and personal preference. Together these can provide a first stop on the Web for an individual which is both interesting and useful - a good recipe for encouraging regular access.
Carefully selected indexed and searchable content with news (internal and external) and links to other relevant sites (again, internal and external) can form the basis of a relatively simple but effective knowledge management system.
The concept can be extended to an Extranet, allowing customers or suppliers to become part of the (tailored) portal community.
Business to business portals
The portal concept is now being extended to offer services specific to particular business sectors or activities. For example, Yet2.com is a searchable database of patented technologies designed to help firms exchange patents and other intellectual property. Firms already using the site include 3M, Boeing, Polaroid and Rockwell and the recent European launch has attracted many of the major European companies to show interest. The site provides them with an opportunity to accelerate the rate at which they can build useful contacts to deliver and exploit new intellectual property.
Thus, portal concepts and technologies can aid in serving the information needs of specific and multiple communities, cementing relationships and building group identities. They can also reduce the time spent in fruitless 'surfing' and make the web an effective tool rather than a time-waster.
A particular example of this kind of portal is Alertnet.org created by the Reuters foundation to help emergency relief organisations to co-ordinate their relief activities. It has been established with the help of several generous IT suppliers - and uses content management technology from Mediasurface. This was selected because the system works on very low staffing levels and short learning curves and high productivity were required. Management of the site is performed through a browser so that staff can post material to the site from anywhere in the world. Postings from partner organisations are controlled through workflow processes. Alertnet is now planning to establish a trading exchange to help cut some of the costs involved in relief work and has other ideas to help improve the effectiveness of the site and of the relief effort it supports.
Free Guide to Implementing a Portal
A free guide for companies that are thinking of deploying their own portal - or wishing to revitalise an existing one - is now available on the web. The 60-page guide has been sponsored and written by a number of companies but claims to offer independent advice on the factors to be considered when selecting a portal and how to sell the concpet to the board. The four themes in the guide are :
The booklet can be downloaded free of charge from www.portalsforprofit.co.uk.
see also the Topic : b2b exchanges
see also the Topic : Portal Software
see also the Topic : Voice Portals
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