Why Portal or Why Not Portal?
Figure 3 depicts one-off implementations of these architectural elements in multiple web applications, versus a consistent implementation through a commercial or open source portal framework.
Figure 3: Multiple Web Application Implementations versus a Portal Framework
Knitting Together the User Experience Architecture
A portal framework knits together the common architectural elements related to user experience. The framework may not implement these functions directly, but integrate other implementations.
You might obtain a portal framework from a commercial or open source provider. Then, you will focus on knitting your security, content management, search, business applications, business intelligence, and business process solutions into that framework in a consistent way.
Please examine these architectural elements in more detail.
As with your B2C example for a wireless phone company, a portal website is often available for guests or potential customers. A login portlet is a common user interface component that allows an end user to register for access and to log in to the site. The login portlet would be configured to access an external identity store, or you might use an identity store that comes with the framework you are using.
Once a user is authenticated, entitlement rules would be configured in the portal framework to authorize the user to perform certain activities versus their account. As with the identity store, the entitlement rule implementation that comes with the portal may be used, or an external entitlement solution may be integrated. Entitlement rules are applied to different elements of the information architecture of the website, including navigation, pages, or portlets so that a user is only seeing the functions he is allowed to perform.
An end user might be allowed to maintain personal preferences for screen content and layouts, to set communication medium preferences, or even to assign delegates for processing transactions on their behalf. The portal framework provides a means to maintain personal preferences, and to configure the information architecture according to those preferences.
A portal framework provides a consistent way for knitting the security elements of authentication, authorization, and personalization into the user experience.
A website must be designed in a way that allows users to find the needed information in a way that makes sense to them. A portal pulls together what may be disparately located content, information, and applications in a coherent way that allows users to discover and learn. A portal framework helps to structure the site and to create a suitable information architecture for the audience.
Portal frameworks provide tremendous flexibility in the area of information architecture. Audience-specific views of the same resources can be easily created and branded. The end user may even be given the capability to customize and configure his own information architecture.
End user analytics are an essential element to managing B2B, B2C, and B2E websites and are used to measure their effectiveness. If the information architecture needs to change based upon user feedback, the portal framework allows navigation, layouts, colors, content, and applications to be reconfigured very easily—perhaps even in real time through drag and drop functionality.
A large portion of many websites is content. Because a lot of the value of the website is related to the content, it must be kept fresh, relevant, and targeted toward the end user. A content management system that allows the content to be frequently updated is an essential element of a consumer, partner, or employee website.
Portal frameworks come with a built-in content management system or can be easily knitted together to use a content management system from another open source or commercial provider. The portal framework makes it easy to consume the content from the provider, to skin the content, and expose it through different templates in the portal. It also may provide the user interface to update the content.
Content from external sources can also be woven into the user experience through syndication.
The information architecture, content management, and search architecture elements are all related in that there is an overall business taxonomy that influences the design of the site and tagging of content to make it intuitive for the end user.
All content must be tagged with meta data to allow it to be viewed in various contexts. The way content is queried in content management and search is different, although the meta data used to query the content is the same.
When integrating content management into a portal, the query logic and parameters needed to retrieve the content are known at design time. This is used to bring up relevant content given the context of where the end user is in the website. With search, the query logic and parameters needed to retrieve the content are known at run time. The user is supplying the context for the information they are interested in. The same meta data allows content to be integrated into the portal and to be searched.
As with many of the other architectural elements related to user experience, a portal framework will come with its own search implementation, or provide the ability to knit together an external search provider into the overall user experience, perhaps with a search portlet.
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