March 8, 1999
Discussing the Relevance--and Future--of Intranet PortalsBy Steven L. Telleen
Q: I hear a lot about portals on the Internet. Do portals have a place in intranets?
A: On any information web there are two kinds of pages: the ones we pass through to find our destinations, and the destination pages themselves. I call the pages we pass through "broker pages," and the people--or applications--that created the pages "information brokers." (See my Jan. 4 column, "How Far Automation Will Go With Information Brokers," for more on this topic.) The popular term today for a high-level information-broker site is "portal." Portals are like airports, train stations, or subway stops--concentration points we pass through en route to some other destination.
Like their physical counterparts, portals provide information commuters with details and maps to help them find their destinations. They also often take advantage of the concentration of "eyeballs" to deliver other messages.
Within organizations, we find the same need for maps to organizational and functional sites, directories and schedules, community-building and public service announcements, and even "advertising" of events, policies, and new features. Most organizations provide these functions on an intranet home page that could be called a portal.
A few months back, several Web server vendors were pushing the concept of "enterprise service providers." This terminology now appears to be morphing into the concept of intranet portals.
Of course, there are major differences between Internet and intranet portals. The best-known Internet portals are based on a broadcast metaphor. As such, the portal owner tries to mimic a television network and keep a mass market of eyeballs on the portal site, in order to generate advertising revenue. To be successful requires turning the portal into a destination--not just a transfer point. However, an intranet portal usually has the opposite objective: to move the visitor through as quickly as possible to the information or processes required for task completion.
If business functionality becomes increasingly delivered as services over the intranet--rather than as applications residing on the client--intranet portals may become destinations as well. However, as with Internet portals, there is a tension between generic time and work efficiencies and immediate and unique individual needs.
As Web users become more sophisticated and comfortable with their electronic environment, there is a high probability they will come to rely on focused specialty portals, returning today's generic portals to their original status as embarcaderos for new or unknown information and services.