Portals Redux

Long before “Web 2.0”, “social software”, the big web buzzword was “portals”

A portal, or enterprise information portal (EIP), is a Web site that integrates an organization’s knowledge base and all related applications into a single user-customizable environment. This environment acts as a one-stop shop, or “gateway,” for users’ information and system needs.

So it was with a bit of cynicism when a GSFSE (Google Search For Something Else) landed me on Zimbio a home of “portals” or “community sites about specific topics”. But these are not your Grandpa’s Enterprise Portals of say… 4 years ago; these are sites fueled by RSS, aggregation, etc… maybe even (can I really write this?)… “Portals 2.0”


From a quick glance, it looks like these Zimbio sites offer special interest groups some tools to build a community site that is able to pull content from RSS sources, photos from image sites like flickr, Webshots, built in keyword tracker tools that yank content from Google and Yahoo, tossing in IM, chat, discussion forums, all which mmix on a group customized “home page”… AND, spit it all back out as an RSS feed and an OPML of the site’s sources. Not bad, at all.

Yikes. Small Pieces. Joined.

So, for example, there is the People’s Guide to Global Warming featuring bookmarked web sites, headlines from 3 RSS feed sources, latest entries by keyword from blogs (tracked by Sphere, a blog search engine), a group shared image gallery, a group blog, news headlines from by keyword search from Yahoo and Topix, images syndicated by tag from flickr, and keyword searches linked from Google. And that’s all on the front page.

And as a tap for my friend and colleague at UBC, there is a Zimbio community for Guitar Lessons, and it has a similar, but slightly different set of tools- the images here are syndicated from Webshots, and different sources are used for the feeds.

So maybe it’s nothing revolutionary, but this is not the multimillion dollar enterprise software from 5 years ago, it is free, hosted, and powered by underlying open standard technology. It could be an ideal aggregation platform or home base for a project or topical interest group.

What could be next? Is it Push 2.0? Top 5% of All Web Sites 2.0 (let’s not forget stinking web badges!)? Blink Tag 2.0?

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. The interesting thing is that you can do the same most of this out-of-the-box with any decent Open Source portal software these days (e.g., uPortal, Liferay, etc.) and, in fact, this is exactly why we decided to make a standards-compliant portal the backbone of the LMOS. We tended to emphasize use cases that required heavy inter-application communication and therefore needed a more complex service layer, but we did so because that was the hard part of the problem that still needed to be solved. This stuff is getting easier and easier to do with commodity technologies.

  2. Alan – Thanks for the review and mention.

    Zimbio is developing a community site that lets people collaborate with each other to research and learn about any topic. We try to roll out new features often – for instance, bloggers can now link their personal blog entries to the appropriate portal topic.

    Expect more soon!



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