Portals are Dead
Portals are DeadPublished By: Intranet Journal
July 12, 2007 (Intranet Journal) -- Early in this decade portals promised to be the solution to community-centric websites that could effectively organize site content, increase community involvement, and foster customer driven sites. The concept of the portal was to deliver a personalized web experience to the user. Let's face it, as website administrators we like having the work done for us, and portals were a way to hand users exactly what they wanted to see on a platter: all of a site's content in one pretty, simplified package. Institutions around the world wide web found themselves face to face with a new dilemma: how can our portal deliver the most user-friendly experience? Departments gathered, budgets studied, and committees formed to develop strategic plans to implement portals in the quest to present a best face to the web community. The result? A barrage of portal driven websites, where users find themselves on a landing page faced with friendly graphics and well-intended links to help them navigate the labyrinth of pages they know must contain the information they need...somewhere.
While personalization is important, and dashboards are viable options, it's time to move forward. There's more to a website than the initial page a user sees, so why is this page the only page that is personalized? The evolution of web publishing and content management systems now brings personalization to an entirely new level, where feature rich sites are able to interact with the user throughout the entire user experience beyond the landing page.
Today, in my opinion, portals are dead. In dead, I certainly don't mean extinct. Portals exist. Everywhere. But are they necessary? It seems like the idea of personalization has been met by preceding every title with the word “My.” MyYahoo, My AltaVista, myragingbull.com, myticketmaster.com, mymymy. Part of the theory of the portal is that users are presented with their own version of a site, when in actuality the content displayed on that site is hardly theirs. Have we really reached a point where this is the best we can do? With today's web technology and publishing capabilities, is it really necessary to present users with a dummy page, full of nothing but headers, titles, graphics, and links? I say no.
Modern content management systems are capable of delivering dynamic user experiences that negate the necessity of the portal. It is now possible, and time and cost effective, to develop sites that actively respond to the user's interests. A user no longer needs to make a single selection from a portal page like a “choose your own adventure” book. Today's websites are capable of recognizing user interest and dynamically generating items of interest and help with very little action required of the user. In today's media weary public, what could be more user friendly? Jane Doe visits a site a couple times a week and finds a topic she enjoys reading about; soon, whenever Jane visits that site she is presented with the very topics of interest she enjoys, which keeps her coming back time and again. Passive profiling streamlines site content for the user, without having to navigate and search through the site each time a visit to the site is made.
As the web community grows and diversifies, developers are looking for ways to add security to the user experience. Today, the use of privileges through assigning users and groups to areas of a site has eliminated the need to lock people out of a site at the front door. Many content management systems allow viewing privileges to be set at every level of the site, from entire pages to the smallest piece of content. A user can visit a site and not even be aware that more exists for users given greater privileges. No unfriendly error messages, no warnings, no threats when a user lands upon a page with “restricted access.” Instead, the user is allowed to browse the site content in happy ignorance that there is more to the page than meets the eye. Those who pay money for subscription services can also rest assured that they are getting their money's worth and know that the content they paid for is indeed privileged access. And, although it sounds counter-intuitive, privilege systems today can also play a role in the personalization process. Normally, we think of security in terms of restriction. However, progressive content management systems are capable of dynamically generating user privileges based on IP address, how often users interact with the site, and even what links the user has clicked on. This allows the entire browsing experience to be interactive, and interaction is the key to personal communication, whether it be with a human or computer.
What about website users who demand control? Many websites want their users to feel that their web experience is the most personalized available, and often presenting users with options that allow them to select and personalize the look and feel of the site is the best way to do that. Instead of a one size fits all portal, dashboards allow users to select content from a predefined menu to display only that information that they deem necessary. In some content management systems site administrators can place content on a menu with a simple click for the user to select from, and usability is foremost with simple drag and drop positioning. Users are presented with options and control, yet maintenance is simple. Content placed in the menu is derived from pre-existing site content, and through the use of shortcuts is updated automatically anytime original content is updated within the site. Users get the personalized interface they desire, while site maintenance is kept uniform.
The portal is no longer a beacon of forward thinking. Moving forward calls for change, and dynamically generated sites are the best way to respond to that change. It's time to move beyond the initial landing page and truly present users with a dynamic and user-driven experience. Anais Nin once remarked, “ We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are.” In that vein, it's time to recognize that a portal can only deliver a preconceived notion; it's time to live up to the challenge of developing a user experience that allows people to see through their own eyes.