The term portal was historically used to refer to an opening in the walls of a gate, building, or other structure. In this context, a portal was often deemed an impressive entrance into an important building. The definition of a portal has evolved considerably in modern times. Now, it usually refers to a Web site that acts as a gateway to other Web sites. In other words, portals are Internet-based sites that present information from multiple sources in a coherent fashion and that allow Internet users to access other Web sites.
Usually, Web portals serve as an anchor site for Internet users when they are initially connecting to the Web. They typically offer a range of information resources and often give users some basic services. For example, most Internet portals provide users with access to search engines, community chat forums, personalized home pages, and email access. In addition, a portal can allow users to check news headlines, review stock prices, obtain driving directions, or get up to speed on entertainment gossip.
Ideally, Web portals provide users with basic functionality, such as search and navigation capabilities and information management. On top of that, a portal can usually let users access personal calendars and appointment reminders. As technology becomes more advanced, some of these gateways are also offering users the ability to customize their portal pages to fit their own individual interests. For instance, some portals allow a user to customize weather reports so that the weather forecast is automatically provided only for a specific city.
National, state, provincial, and local governments may use portals in order to communicate with their citizens. These sites can include everything from news about the country, province, state, or city to information about government services and departments. A government portal may also include statutes, speeches, consumer guides, and tax information. Some of these sites also provide job, education, and public safety notices.
Corporate portals are also growing in popularity. A corporate portal can provide both employees and customers with a range of self-service activities. For example, employees may be able to use their corporate gateway to review their benefits information, paycheck data, or corporate documents and notices. Similarly, customers may use these sites to perform basic tasks around the clock, such as reviewing invoice and payment history, accessing purchase quotes, tracking product shipments, and collaborating on projects. Generally, these corporate sites are accessed using secure authentication sign-on methodologies.