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Internet portal

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Internet portal

A web portal is most often one specially-designed Web page at a website 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 Mashup (web application hybrid) 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, Indiatimes, Rediff, Sify and Yahoo!. See for example, the "My Yahoo!" feature of Yahoo! which may have inspired such features as the later Google "iGoogle" (soon to be discontinued.) 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.

History

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 gaves 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.

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 web page at a web site on the World Wide Web or a local HTML home page including JavaScript and perhaps running in a modified web browser. A personal portal typically provides personalized capabilities to its visitors or its local user, providing a pathway to other content. It may be designed to use distributed applications, different numbers and types of middleware and hardware to provide services from a number of different sources and may run on a non-standard local web server. In addition, business portals can be designed for sharing and collaboration in workplaces. A further business-driven requirement of portals is that the content be presented 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. Outside of business intracet user, very often simpler portals become replaced with richer mashup designs. Within enterprises, early portals were often replaced by much more powerful "dashboard" designs. Some also have relied on newer protocols such as some version of RSS aggregation and may or may not involve some degree of web harvesting.

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

Main article: Intranet portal

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.

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 [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 IFPMA Clinical Trials Portal

Engineering aspects

Overview

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.

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. For early web browsers permitting HTML frameset and iFrame elements, diverse information could be presented without violating the browser same-source security policy (relied upon to prevent a variety of cross-site security breaches.) More recent client-side technologies rely on JavaScript frameworks and libraries that rely on more recent web functionality such as WebSockets and async callbacks using XMLHttpRequests.

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.

Tools

In current use

One currently popular client-side library is jQuery. Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is one server-side example of how a portal can be used to deliver application server content and functionality.

SOAP was one of the early XML-based protocols used for servers to communicate within such an architecture. Many such approaches still relied on a Java applet on the client side or, more often, the extensive use of JavaScript on the client side. Some servers used advanced programming paradigms to generate the JavaScript within the HTML to be rendered by the client browser or by site-specific or task-specific browsers (the latter are more common in government agencies with military and security responsibilities).

While Java is now less often used with a browser plug-in, Java remains a major implementation language for complex server-side implementations of secure portal designs with heavy concurrent loads. Apache Tomcat with JBoss using JMS, JMX and related Java services are very common implementation elements. There is some indication of recent reimplementations and new designs moving from XML to JSON and from SQL to NoSQL implementations given the successes achieved by Google and by Amazon. The interest in JavaScript may stem from work at Yahoo! which has not seen as much success, but which work can now be combined with Google's use of code inlining strategies which predate JavaScript in the Self alternative to StrongTalk, a second generation Smalltalk (both acquired by Sun at the time Netscape began innovating in LiveScript and other new browser features.)

From an engineering history standpoint, some older ideas underlie recent hot-topics such as node.js running on Google's V8 JavaScript engine or VM. It is noteworthy from an engineering standpoint that node.js was not originally implemented in JavaScript just as many server-side libraries were not implemented in Java. One of the most successful e-commerce sites generated client-side JavaScript using server-side Smalltalk and many mission-critical executive dashboards in Fortune 200 companies remain implemented in client-side MIT Curl for the Surge RTE browser plug-in (although not widely reported in IT journalism and further obscured by recent corporate ISV acquisitions). One major US government agency continues to use the seldom-taught Icon programming language as the implementation language best-suited to their server-side task.

IBM's acquisition of iLog Rules is another example of a much older technology (Prolog) underlying some very advanced portals within vertical markets. Neither Apple nor Microsoft showed an interest in the Prolog language, so despite the advent of CLP, such engineering implementation options see little public attention in internet media reports. Similar issues pertain to Haskell projects and other less well-advertised implementations of advanced web portals and portlets in the financial and government sectors.

Sociological problems

Very often the client implementation programmers are unaware of the engineering history relating, say, Ruby and Objective-C to Smalltalk or JavaScript to LiveScript and Self with the attendant risk of "re-inventing" if not the wheel, then, say, the inflated rubber tire on the wheel rim. Client-side developers often have no experience as server-side developers in languages such as C or in high-level alternative languages that are not often encountered in HTTP client implementations.

The failure to recognize the advantages of some seldom learned programming languages either for server-side aggregation tasks or for generating JavaScript suited to the aggregated information remains a challenge in portal design and implementation and is often aggravated by out-sourcing to countries whose technical institutes tend to graduate either C/C++ or Java or JavaScript "programmers" rather than computer science graduate software engineers. This phenomenon is more striking in recent server-side "programmers" who "code" only in Python or only in Ruby, just as it has been a long-standing issue in non-portal dynamic web pages produced by "PHP-only" programmers. The problem is further aggravated by technical schools which move from introducing computer science as "programming in Java" to CS as "programming in Python" while ignoring multi-paradigm languages such as Oz or even web-oriented client languages such as MIT Curl or Rebol or more mature server VM-based languages such as Smalltalk.

CS graduates often enter graduate school with no acquaintance with smart server software implemented in anything other than a general-use language. Many server-side programmers only know regular expression parsing of aggregated content and are unaware of the emergence of PEG parsing or of PEG-equivalent Rebol as an alternative to, say, Perl, grep or awk and sed. The bias for SQL in DBMS selection and for XML in data format selection is a topic in sociology of business computing and IT management. The opportunity cost of such non-scientific biases is another concern in an area of applied science seemingly influenced by "buzzwords" and journalists more than evidence-based research and social science. The irrationality may be amplified by HR policies and education policies without regard to economic risk. The high failure rate of portal projects is a matter of concern as is the short lifespan of some implementations and the failure to successfully replace some older designs.

Standards

See also

References

Further reading

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