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What is a Portal, Really?

You've heard them referred to as corporate portals, enterprise information portals, and business intelligence portals. You may even have debated the merits of vortals at a recent dinner party (although I hope not).

In a nutshell, portals provide a single point of access to aggregated information. The portal concept has been applied to general audiences on the Web (so-called "Internet portals"), to organization-private Web sites ("intranet portals"), and to specialized online communities of practice ("vertical portals" or vortals). While all of this terminology may seem daunting at first, the principles behind portals are relatively simple.

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The primary goal of most portals is ease-of-use. Besides having a single point of access -- a virtual front door -- portals generally try to provide a rich navigation structure. Portals using Web pages for their user interface will, for instance, often include numerous hyperlinks on the front page.

MSNBC start page

MSNBC start page

One example of an Internet portal is msnbc.com (see above). MSNBC contains many elements one expects from a general-purpose portal including featured content, numerous hyperlinks, search capability, stock quotes, and customization based on user locale.

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