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Portals

information services interface management

Definition: Portals serve as entry points to public and private IP-based networks, including the Internet.

Borrowing from its historical definition as a “grand doorway,” the modern technological interpretation of “portal” is as an entry point (or gateway) to a broad array of collaborativenetwork-based resources and services. In the early days of personal computing, portals servedas the means of access to bulletin board services (BBS) such as CompuServe, Prodigy and thelike. Today, portals have evolved to serve as entry points to public and private IP-basednetworks, including the Internet. As part of this transition, portals now typically utilizebrowser technology (rather than proprietary software) to provide a standard Web interface notjust to HTML pages, but to various information management, communication and collaborative services. As such, they are an example of the contemporary reality of collaborative computing.

Typical functionality exposed through a portal ranges from accessing information stores(including traditional web sites and databases, as well as document, information andknowledge repositories) to providing wide-ranging search functionality, access to (group)communication tools such as e-mail, chat/instant messaging, audio and video conferencing,discussion and news groups, blogging and so forth. Workflow support, calendaring,voting/polling and on-line meeting systems are also typical functionalities enabled throughportal systems. Effectively, they serve as a user-centric access point to the user’s “electronic world” – thus necessitating per-user configuration (i.e., profiles supporting custom user interface layout, information service specification, content selection/aggregation, unified logon to the various services, and so forth). Many of the specifics on what functionality is offered and how it is accessed often depends on whether the portal is intended for a private or public audience.

Private, organization-specific portals are typically used to provide a logically centralizedaccess to organizational information, tools and services. Such a common forum provides forincreased awareness and faster dissemination of organizational information by providing acommon front-end to employees. For example, by providing a familiar interface to theorganization through a content management system (vs. shared file systems), issues ofscalability and knowledge-management (e.g., search and audit via version control, meta-tagging, classification and categorization) can be addressed. The result is that portals can helpstimulate new ways of working, including Communities of Practice.

Conversely, public portals typically offer services of wide-spread interest to large, diverseaudiences. These include: Web site directories, access to news, weather, stock quotes, phone and map information, as well as e-mail, chat/instant messaging and community forums according to individual interests. For organizations that provide a public interface to their business process, a portal can supplement traditional means of communicating and interacting with clients; examples include electronic banking, account management for utility companies and e-commerce support for retail outlets. Scientific and engineering organizations, such as ACM, IEEE and numerous others, also use portals both to facilitate their operation as well as their interaction with members and the wider scientific/engineering communities. Examples of portal technology being used in a wide array of specific scientific research projects, ranging from geo-science and on-line biology labs to astrophysics and grid computing management can be found in

In terms of implementation, the technologies and tools used to build portals range significantly in capability and cost. Some common portal technologies are commercial(Sharepoint, Livelink, Web Logic, WebSphere, lOg, amongst others) while others are open source (e.g., Plone, Nuke/PHP-Nuke, Drupal, XOOPS, eXo). Most are built using a modularapproach in which additional or enhanced functionality can be added to the “portal server” viaimplementation-specific add-on modules. The end-user generally accesses the portal server using a standard browser interface which typically employs any number of common browser technologies. These include XML, HTML/DHTML, CGI, Java, ASP/JSP, PHP, Python andso forth. Recent efforts towards a more interoperable approach for portal server using a standard browser interface which typically employs any numbers of common browser technologies. These include XML, HTML/DHTML, CGI, Java, ASP/JSP, PHP, Python andso forth. Recent efforts towards a more interoperable approach for portal development havelead to an container-based architecture for portal and portal extensions (called portlets) via the JSR 168 portlet specification and WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portlets).

In all cases, by employing “thin client” architecture, portals benefit from the ubiquity ofbrowser technology on virtually every computer system as well as user comfort with the browser interface. Such an approach also promotes acceptance through easier software management (less difficult installation and upgrading) along with potentially fewer security considerations (when compared to custom software). Even so, the specifics of implementation technology can have considerable impact on the portal’s acceptability within organizations, as some do not allow downloadable technologies (e.g., applets) to be used in certain situations, often based on network topology and inter-organizational connectivity.

Porter, Dorothy (1905–) - Curator, History of African-American Women [next] [back] Portable Network Graphics (PNG)

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