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A Personal Portal is a site on the World Wide Web that typically provides personalized capabilities to its visitors, providing a pathway to other content. It is designed to use distributed applications, different numbers and types of middleware and hardware to provide services from a number of different sources. In addition, business portals are designed to share collaboration in workplaces. A further business-driven requirement of portals is that the content be able to work on multiple platforms such as personal computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and cell phones.

Development of Personal portals
In the late 1990s, the Web portal was a hot commodity. After the proliferation of Web browsers in the mid-1990s, many companies tried to build or acquire a portal, to have a piece of the Internet market. The Web portal gained special attention because it was, for many users, the starting point of their Web browser. Netscape became a part of America Online, the Walt Disney Company launched Go.com, and Excite and @Home became a part of AT&T during the late 1990s. Lycos was said to be a good target for other media companies such as CBS.

Many of the portals started initially as either web directories (notably Yahoo!) and/or search engines (Excite, Lycos, AltaVista, infoseek, and Hotbot among the old ones). Expanding services was a strategy to secure the user-base and lengthen the time a user stayed on the portal. Services which require user registration such as free email, customization features, and chatrooms were considered to enhance repeat use of the portal. Game, chat, email, news, and other services also tend to make users stay longer, thereby increasing the advertising revenue.

The portal craze, with "old media" companies racing to outbid each other for Internet properties, died down with the dot-com flameout in 2000 and 2001. Disney pulled the plug on Go.com, Excite went bankrupt and its remains were sold to iWon.com. Some notable portal sites, for instance, Yahoo!, remain successful to this day. To modern dot-com businesses, the portal craze serves as a cautionary tale about the risks of rushing into a market crowded with highly-capitalized but largely undifferentiated me-too companies.

Regional Web portals
Along with the development and success of international personal portals such as Yahoo!, regional variants have also sprung up. Some regional portals contain local information such as weather forecasts, street maps and local business information. Another notable expansion over the past couple of years is the move into formerly unthinkable markets.

"Local content - global reach" portals have emerged not only from countries like India (Rediff), (MswPower.Com),China (Sina.com) and Italy (Webplace.it), but in countries like Vietnam where they are very important for learning how to apply e-commerce, e-government, etc. Such portals reach out to the widespread diaspora across the world.

Government Web portals
At the end of the dot-com boom in the 1990s, many governments had already committed to creating portal sites for their citizens. In the United States the main portal is USA.gov, in addition to portals developed for specific audiences such as DisabilityInfo.gov; in the United Kingdom the main portals are Directgov (for citizens) and businesslink.gov.uk (for businesses).

Many U.S. states have their own portals which provide direct access to eCommerce applications (e.g., Hawaii Business Express and myIndianaLicense), agency and department web sites, and more specific information about living in, doing business in and getting around the state.

Many U.S. states have chosen to out-source the operation of their portals to third-party vendors. The most successful company to date for this is NICUSA which runs 19 state portals. NICUSA focuses on the self-funded model, and does not charge the state for work. Instead it is supported by transaction fees for its applications.

Corporate Web portals
Corporate intranets gained popularity during the 1990's. Having access to a variety of company information via a web browser was a new way of working. Intranets quickly grew in size and complexity, and webmasters (many of whom lacked the discipline of managing content and users) became overwhelmed in their duties. It wasn't enough to have a consolidated view of company information, users were demanding personalization and customization. Webmasters, if skilled enough, were able to offer some capabilities, but for the most part ended up driving users away from using the intranet.

The 1990's were a time of innovation for the concept of corporate web portals. Many companies began to offer tools to help webmasters manage their data, applications and information more easily, and through personalized views. Some portal solutions today are able to integrate legacy applications, other portals objects, and handle thousands of user requests.

Today’s corporate portals are sprouting new value-added capabilities for businesses. Capabilities such as managing workflows, increasing collaboration between work groups, and allowing content creators to self-publish their information are lifting the burden off already strapped IT departments.

In addition, most portal solutions today, if architected correctly, can allow internal and external access to specific corporate information using secure authentication or Single-Sign-On.

JSR168 Standards emerged around 2001. Java Specification Request (JSR) 168 standards allow the interoperability of portlets across different portal platforms. These standards allow portal developers, administrators and consumers to integrate standards-based portals and portlets across a variety of vendor solutions.

Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server line of products have been gaining popularity among corporations for building their portals, partly due to the tight integration with the rest of the Microsoft Office products. Research by Forrestor Research in 2004 shows that Microsoft is the vendor of choice for companies lookign for portal server software.

Hosted Web Portals
As corporate portals gained popularity a number of companies began offering them as a hosted service. The hosted portal market fundamentally changed the composition of portals. In many ways they served simply as a tool for publishing information instead of the loftier goals of integrating legacy applications or presenting correlated data from distributed databases. The early hosted portal companies such as Hyperoffice.com, Intranets.com, or the now defunct InternetPortal.com focused on collaboration and scheduling in addition to the distribution of corporate data. As hosted web portals have risen in popularity their feature set has grown to include hosted databases, document management, email, discussion forums and more. Hosted portals automatically personalize the content generated from their modules to provide a personalized experience to their users. In this regard they have remained true to the original goals of the earlier corporate web portals.

Other types of portals

Entertainment Portals: Often all members of an entertainment portal are responsible for its content and direct the type of entertainment that is available to visitors to the site. An example of one such portal is the South African Music and Entertainment portal Overtone. These can be an essential part of community based networking and collaboration.

Environmental Portals: In recent years, many Environmental Portals have been developed in order to raise awareness about Environmental Indicators. Such an Example is the EUSOILS.

Investment Portals: These are an excellent resource when researching global and industry specific markets.

B2B and B2C Portals: B2B or Business to Business Portals have become a very important resource for Global business. They provide buyer and seller details for different commodities and products and help in connecting businesses across the globe. A B2B portal that specializes in a single industry is called a Vertical B2B Portal or a Vortal. B2C or Business to Consumer portals are used to directly sell products to consumers.

Mini Portals: Some localized portals are based on local interests, and edited and maintained by individuals. While they do not provide the same levels of services as major portals, they are a good place for collaboration of ideas, for commonly interested people.

Voice Portals: In addition to standard web sites accessed through web browsers, people can also access "voice sites" through "voice browsers". Destinations accessed in this way by standard telephones are often called Voice Portals. (Credit: Wikipedia).


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