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A brief History of Portals

Posted by navaneeth on August 14, 2004 at 8:04 AM PDT

There was a time when the only portals I knew were those of the Diablo kind. If you are not exactly a gaming freak, Diablo is an RPG where you get to play as the lone warrior battling the forces of evil. Every once in a while, you use a magic scroll (called the scroll of town portal) to open a dazzling blue gateway. You then run through it to your nearest base and regain your lost health and magical powers. For a long time, that shiny blue entrance was the only portal I was familiar with.

It has been around 8 months since I moved to Sun’s Portal Server team, and today the word “portal” reminds me of something different. The portal I am familiar with today is a content/service aggregation and delivery system which front-ends a variety of other systems.

Surprisingly, the connotation remains the same.

The word "portal" is derived from the Latin word porta, which translates to “gate”. In the strictest sense of the word, anything that acts as a gateway to anything else is a portal. In Diablo, the shiny blue ingress acts as a gateway to the warrior's base. In the network, the portal server acts as gateway to the enterprise.

It was Punit Pandey's post that kindled my thoughts about the evolution of portals. While I am no expert to comment on their future, I did dig up a little bit into their history.

The evolution of the portal concept can be traced back right from the early beginnings of the world wide web.

The Static Web

The WWW in its primordial form was used to share content. The content shared was static in nature and referenced by links. Portals that existed at this phase were web pages providing static links to other web pages. Portals were simply pointers to content.

Portals => Content

The Dynamic Web

With the advent of CGI, the WWW had become dynamic. Static links could no longer cater to the animated form the Internet. The only way to lookup for specific content was by using a search engine. Portals needed to provide search.

Portals => Content + Search

The Network as a Business Enabler

The dynamic nature of the web made it an ideal medium for conducting businesses. Organizations could communicate with customer, partners, and stakeholders in a cheap and effective manner through the Internet.
Information had to be “organized” to be made useful. Information had to be “personalized” to cater to different target audience. This stage also saw the emergence of industry specific portals called vortals.

Portal => content + search + organization+ personalization

The Network as a Collaboration Platform

It was realized that the Network could be used as a powerful platform for collaboration. This period saw the rise of instant messaging, web based communities etc. The portal was found to be the ideal single point for collaborative computing.

Portal => content + search + organization+ personalization+ collaboration

The Network as a Service Enabler

Today the Network is a service enabler. With the advent of web services, organizations have let their capabilities published as well as be invoked directly across the network. Standards like SOAP, WSDL, UDDI and ebXML have emerged. Portals of today have the ability to consume and interact with webservices.

Portal => content + search + organization+ personalization+ collaboration+web services

IMHO, this is where the Portal concept stands today. Portals today are content aggregators which focus on organization and personalization of content. They typically provide search capabilities and collaboration facilities in addition to front ending web services.

Now .. what do I think about the future of portals ?

I can take a guess. But for now, I will leave it as the subject for my next blog entry ;)

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