Thursday, February 26, 2009

The portal is dead? The portal is back!

The old public portals are dead or weaning. New portals are popping up with bigger user involvement – one of the main ingredients to success on the internet.

Remember the Netscape portal? What was its name again? See what is happening to Yahoo? So, public portals are pretty much dead.

But, what is a portal anyway? A collection of news, information on a variety of topics, information bits, usually collected and put together for a certain target group representing a part of the online population. Portals usually link to the full articles and offer ways to give feedback and very often a personalization.

Or, here a bit more glitzy portal overview and description.

Does this description fit the non enterprise portal too?

Mostly, yes. Check it out: or

They connect what is happening out there, sometimes focused like intel did with this very smart move to use the in reference to their corporate color and the overall association to blue chips, and sometimes more generic like popurls and kosmix.
Sometimes there is a search and a login, and the portals are going to some length about integrating open-id concepts to give access to associated content via SSO, single sign on. Remembering these are independent platforms it is amazing how far this has come, especially compared to how difficult this seems for enterprise portals.

There are mainly three categories of sites

  • Aggregators like,,,,, flickr,, twitter
  • News generators like wired, huffingtonpost and nytimes.
  • News aggregators are like or
And connecting all this, there are the new portals like and, collecting all this information in one place and then linking out to the origins. An interestingly big part of these are using statistics to find relevance on the social aggregator sites, showing what seems important in the online community.

The aggregators are one very new component of these new portals, they give personal expression a forum and add to their power by making them more prominent then they have been before.

So what is the effect on traffic of the new portals?

Getting to a top position in one of the aggregators can boost your visitor flow tremendously, I personally have seen small sites with 40% and more visitors coming in via ONE aggregator like digg or stumbleupon, even without being in a very prominent position in the respective aggregator.
With aggregators being this important, their power will be even more increased once a page makes it to one of the portals.
(Unfortunately there are no public user reports to be used to estimate the factor in quantity this makes, and let’s not guess today.)

Does it make a difference in opinion building?

Let us take a scientific stance: Getting information from several, best contradicting, sources is most valuable for building an independent opinion and informed decisions.

Collecting the most communicated news from a variety of sources then should balance views from specific user groups. Let’s assume lifehacker is mainly driven by techies and delicious by marketers or communicators. Theses aggregator sites are driven by the vocal public, the ones who have an opinion, who have a message to the world, are keen on to be seen active in the community out of whatever reason. Then, there are news sites like nytimes, huffington post, filled with content by journalists and hopefully backed up by research in the sense of scientific research (reproducible results). Wired is an interesting mix of professional technology journalism with highly opinionated statements, may be this is why they seem to be so popular.

The good...

So, over all there is a mix of a great variety of perspectives, news, opinions and topics on these sites, and from a political participation perspective this is very advanced and opens the chance not only to compare what made it into the official versus what made it into the in-official social news. It also opens the possibility to see a variety of perspective on the same topics and to gain a more balanced view.
From a user perspective it is very helpful, as instead of going to all the sites, a quick glance at these portals gives a good overview of what is happening online.

… and the bad ....

There are two flaws though, although they cannot be easily qualified or quantified.

First, a lot of people and a lot of target groups are left out of this information gathering and opinion building. How many percent of the populations are not online? How many of the online population have an account on one of the aggregators and use them regularly?

Second, the bias of these social networks, with that the bias of the opinion aggregators and by that the bias of these social portals seems to tilt heavily to the political left. Without taking a political position (this is not the place to lean to a party, I’d say) this gap is not helpful for getting a good overview. (Guess is, there is quite some overlap, but I don't know any reliable numbers here.)

...and the way out

Now I just need to figure out, how to build a portal page for myself, collecting the news like these portals do, but customized. Leaving out the noise I don’t want and adding the few resources I need additionally.

I am open for tips!

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