The Portal of the Future

At this year's Gartner Application Development, Integration and Web Services Summit, I attended Gene Phifer talk: "Portal of the Future: What's Beyond Web 2.0?".

At this year’s Gartner Application Development, Integration and Web Services Summit, I attended Gene Phifer’s talk: "Portal of the Future: What's Beyond Web 2.0?".

According to Gene, the main difference between a regular website and a portal is personalisation, which goes beyond the typical "Hello Gene". There are two JSRs that define the behaviour of portals -- 168 and 286. He says people should understand the difference before deciding whether they really need a portal.

The notion of MyPortal isn’t new. My Yahoo, iGoogle and Windows Live are some examples of personalised portals. In Gene’s words, it is "my view into my stuff". The user can pull content from multiple sources into a personalised view.

The Portal Fabric

The idea of portal fabric is that each user becomes the centre of their "portal universe". Users utilise a range of different portals on a daily basis, whether they are banking, work, government portals or megaportals that cannot be easily integrated with each other.

At present, portals aggregate content but in the future it’s anticipated portal fabric will facilitate portal aggregation, providing an even higher level of personalisation. The user will have one view of the information, as portlets (areas of portals) and even whole portals will be integrated.

The portal fabric will bring way to the idea of a "follow-me-portal", which is expected to surface by 2009. Gene says the idea is "as you change context the portal goes with you". That is, the view and the behaviour would change based on the locale and you take the piece of the portal you care about the most. For instance, you don’t want your portal to behave the same at the office as when you are in the car. For example, when you are in the car, you want the email to be read to you and you will dictate the response.

For portal fabric to become a reality, standards need to evolve beyond WSRP to achieve complete portal interoperability and include portlets, user profiles, directory, security, and metadata. In addition, managing federated identity will also become necessary.

The effect of Web 2.0 on the Enterprise

Another key theme was consumerism and how it will affect the enterprise in the future. Digital native is a label given to the current wave of late teens and twenty-something-year-olds who have grown up with Web technologies. They are a contrast to digital immigrants who have adopted the technology later in life.

Digital natives will have different expectations when they enter the workforce. These individuals make regular use of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis and social networks and will expect to see them in the enterprise environment. Enterprises need to understand these people and try to embrace these technologies rather than reject them. Ultimately, the workers are likely to be more productive if they use technologies they are already familiar with.

Collaboration tools like blogs and wikis can bring many benefits to the organisation. For instance, a blog allows one to express intricate ideas that can fuel further discussions. Wikis are easily updated and can become powerful repositories of information.

Enterprise portals are expected to facilitate the creation of enterprise Web 2.0 mashups -- websites or Web apps comprised of "mashed up" content from one or more individual websites. The ease of use will allow developers to produce websites quickly, but the scary thing is end-users will also be able to build them. Consequently, it is important to have the right kind of control and monitoring to avoid any problems that can arise, such as infinite loops. For instance, providing sandboxes for users to test out their creations and putting in QA procedures in place would help. Perhaps the best end-user candidate to build a mashup would be your business analyst, as they have sufficient technical skills and knowledge about data and processes.

The Portal of the Future

Currently, portal code is monolithic in that it does not separate its components and doesn’t allow access to external systems. Individual services can only be accessed within the portal. The portal of the future will be based on SOA principles and provide services that can be accessed on their own, from other applications such as portals.

To summarise, six characteristics of the portal of the future are:

|> Support aggregation, especially of other portals;
|> Enable end-user enterprise mashups;
|> Provide social functionality, such as that of social networks;
|> Integrate with other social networks;
|> Play a part in improving the user experience in enterprises; and
|> Provide portal services to non-portal Web apps.