‘Practical Techie:’ The magical science of portals

Written by  //  July 22, 2013  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

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Author Rafael Matos is professor of multimedia at a private university and director of the Caribbean Multimedia Center, a nonprofit media lab focusing on closing the digital divide. Questions should be sent to cccrafael@gmail.com.

Author Rafael Matos is professor of multimedia at a private university and director of the Caribbean Multimedia Center, a nonprofit media lab focusing on closing the digital divide. Questions should be sent to cccrafael@gmail.com.

Like the Stargate science fiction TV series, a web portal is like a magic entryway into a world of interesting information and events. Like any magical doorway, the design morphs and alters according to usage.

Commercial website owners need to take stock every now and then to make sure their biz site is totally focused on what it was designed to do from the start.  I say this, because as we keep adding data elements, information features, interactivity, blogs, RSS or other new services to a website, it begins to lose its original personality.

So let’s sit down for a moment and take stock of what web portals are and what our business website is supposed to be within their definition. A portal is a complex website that brings information and services together from diverse sources, but in a uniform way of presentation.

It differs somewhat from the concept of a web site, in the sense that the latter is a mere collection of related pages or documents.  Services can include, stock prices, search, email capacity, maps, weather info, job offering, even a glossary.

That is, a portal is a huge truck loaded with varied sources of content, information services and ample interactivity. A website is a pickup with a load of related boxes of content, much like when we move out and put all our kindred belongs in the cargo bed.

Now, portals can be vertical or horizontal in nature. Examine your biz site and determine to which category it falls in.

A horizontal portal is used as a platform to connect with several companies in the same economic sector, such as manufacturers or distributors.  Big corporation sites are of this category as they connect information and services between related enterprises.

A vertical portal is a specialized entry point to a specific niche. News, books, shoes, clothing, cars, etc., are niche portals.  Social networks, video posting and blogging are also vertical portals, laden with interactivity and multimedia content.

Vast array of formats
Now, like Alice’s magic entrance mirror to Wonderland, portals come in a vast array of formats. See which one adheres best to your biz Web site.

Personal portals offer a pathway to other content about friend information on social networking, or providing links to outside content related to a specific person or their work or enterprise.

A news portal is all about media and social communications. It’s a hefty port, piled high with news, public messages, tidings and headlines, all in multimedia format. These sites might also have a commercial bend, as they sell editorial services, company merchandise or subscriptions.

Next are government portals, usually offering connections to public agencies or primary information about services to citizens. Most are in an inter-agency format.

We also have cultural portals, basically a curator site for digitalized collections of gallery art, museums, photography, music, film, or a library interface to book resources and services.

Then there search portals stocks management or market portals.

Finally, there are the corporate portals, designed to offer a consolidated view of company information, products, services or a business image. A corporate portal can be horizontal and have its own intranet connection to other sites within a company.

Focused identity is crucial
Hopefully, all this information will help a business owner establish a more focused identity of their company’s website. This is crucial because some personal portals are market as corporate, or cultural ones as news portals, or a mixture of all these, and so on. Let there be no identity crisis.

Corporate portals should offer workflow management, collaboration between work groups, and policy-managed content publication, but not news or cultural entertainment.

The business portal should be devoid of an owner’s particular views, social ventures or personal interests. I am surprised on how much this goes on in many corporate portals, giving the site an identity crisis. This portal is only for corporate information.

What is called “content aggregation” should strictly adhere to company mores and image. Otherwise, as we adorn and make the site increasingly richer, ever more dynamic and interactive, we might morph it into a virtual Frankenstein.

Each portal must have a definite personality and format to do the job it was designed to do.

The moral here is thus… Portal science is complex but we must clearly identify which type of portal we have or need and then keep it’s identity pure and efficient.

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