There are two common uses for the term personal portal. One is a personalized webpage where a user has access to personal information and can branch out. This use is very much like a home-on-the-Web; a user has a personal slice of the Internet that is customized just for him. The other usage refers to the hardware that allows a home network user to access the Internet. In this case, the personal portal is basically a doorway; on one side there is the user and his network and on the other side there is the Internet.
The usage of personal portal as a hardware term grew out of the technical meaning. In the early days of mass Internet use, there were many technical terms filtering down into the world of non-technical users. By this time, many large businesses had used internal networks for many years and had a slew of terms that related to their systems.
Terms such as gateway and portal were in common use to describe internal networking features. As these terms filtered into the general public, their usage became more specific to their non-technical form. For example, since a portal is another word for door, it started taking on a measure of that meaning. For the average computer user, the concept of ‘stepping’ from the personal home system to the wide open Internet made a great deal of sense.
The software form of personal portal is arguably the more correct one. In this case, a single company not only provides access to the Internet as a whole, but also provides access to other features as well. In the early days of the mass Internet use, companies such as America Online® and CompuServe® were major players in the personal portal system. They allowed users to go online using the company's proprietary software. A user had an individual place where they logged in, which gave them access to their personal information, almost like a second computer desktop.
Since the early 2000s, that brand of personal portal is less socially relevant. Cheap, high-speed Internet coupled with changes in the Web company industry made such portals obsolete. Users started using less invasive systems, typically ones that ran totally online. Search engines became the main form of personal portal with systems such as iGoogle® and My Yahoo!® providing access to news, sports and Web searching for free.
Regardless of the software used, the main factors are always the same. Users have the ability to access customized information, typically from subsystems of the host webpage. For instance, iGoogle® allows users to easily integrate Gmail® and Google News® into personal webpages. While a user may gain added value from having these available, they never leave the main Google® system when using them. This means users see more advertising from the host page, which means the host makes more money per user from advertisers.