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What is a Portal?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahSon — On Sep 02, 2011

It seems like more and more employment related tasks are done through a portal than ever before.

One of the biggest advantages for me is the ability to do a lot of my work from home. Since my job doesn't require me to be at the office every day, I can sign in through the portal and still get a lot of work done.

Most of the time this works great and I always enjoy working from home more than from my office cubicle. There have been times when they have had glitches in the portal software and I was not able to log in, but most of the time I haven't had any problems.

By sunshined — On Sep 02, 2011

My son is a student at a local community college and almost everything that is done for school is done through a portal he has access to.

Through this portal he can sign up for classes, add and drop classes, check his financial aid, make a payment and even see which courses he needs to finish to complete his degree.

He also goes through this same portal to take online quizzes and tests. What is really frustrating for him is when he signs in to the portal server to take a quiz and finds out it is offline for a few hours or having technical difficulties.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 01, 2011

@orangey03 - I think we are not too far away from the day when everything employment related will be done online. Unless you work for an individual who has an aversion to computers, you will probably end up dealing with all online documents soon.

All of my friends use a company portal to set up their 401(k) and insurance. I don’t know anyone personally who still has to fill out a physical sheet of paper.

My company even requires its employees to check the site every morning for important notices and meeting times. We will be held responsible for missing any of them.

By orangey03 — On Aug 31, 2011

The corporation my husband works for makes its employees use the corporate portal for several things. This forces them to find a way to have internet access, even if they don’t have it at home.

They do direct deposit, and they don’t provide paper check stubs. So, he has to use the portal to check his stub.

Also, in order to sign up for health insurance and stock purchases, he has to go through the portal. I remember when he added me to his insurance policy. We had to do it all online.

I work for a small company, and everything is still done in person and through paperwork. I wonder, though, if one day, everyone will have to use a portal.

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