Just a passing phrase

PC Pro logo Posted: 1st June 1999 | Filed under: Press Articles
Author: Paul Ockenden
First Appeared in PC Pro 1999

The buzzword of the past few months has been 'portal'. Every site seems to either proclaim itself as a portal or that it intends to become one. MSN even relaunched itself in the UK with the awful pun 'Portal Combat'. So what exactly is a portal? Well, nobody really knows. Everyone seems to have their own definition, normally one which happens to fit their own particular site. There are many diverse sites, all offering different facilities, all claiming to be a portal.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that a portal is 'A door, gate, doorway or gateway, of stately or elaborate construction'. Well that last bit eliminates many of the so-called portal sites! The OED goes on 'the entrance... of an edifice, esp. of a large magnificent building'. That sounds like the Internet. So, based on the OED, one might decide that a portal is a doorway on to the Internet but, then again, so is a search engine; so is a page of links; so is your bookmark list.

However, portal sites seem to offer much more than a doorway, with services like news, comment, sport, search facilities and weather, which is completely at odds with the definition of portal - if a portal is simply a doorway, surely it would have almost zero content of its own? More like a doorman than a door...

Perhaps we should conclude that rather than being to do with the contents of a Web site, portal is a concept used mainly to gain column inches in the Internet press. If your visitor count is on a downward spiral, issue a press release announcing that your site has become the latest all-singing, all-dancing portal. You want content? Add a link to an on-line newspaper. You want tools? Add a link to a search engine. You want e-commerce? Add a link to Amazon. There, you're now running a fully-fledged portal. Watch your share price zoom into the stratosphere.