When is a portal not a portal, but a vortal? Has your portal given birth to portlets  yet? And what’s the difference between a portal, a Website and a gateway?

Don’t know?  Join the club.  Some people say a portal is the first Webpage a consumer sees when they hit the public Web (for example AOL, Yahoo or MSN.)  Others really mean an "enterprise information portal" (i.e., the first Web page in employee, supplier or customer sees when they log on to an intranet.)

Then there are "mobile portals (the screen on your cell phone), "vortals"  (portals which serve a specific vertical market), portlets (a dedicated application running on a portal), gateways" (seemingly another word for portal) and "corportal," a "corporate portal which is another word for… enterprise information portal.

Most of this is nonsense, of course.  A portal is simply a visual (or voice) interface that helps you get information from different sources. A portal is not something a vendor sells — it is something a customer creates using tools from a vendor.

This is something vendors understand, if you look closely at their "portal" offerings.

Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Sun ONE Portal Server is really a bundling of Sun’s Web Server, Identity Server and Directory Server.  But if I’m reading their Website right, you have to buy more than the Portal Server to get the ability "to integrate packaged, custom, legacy, and new Java applications."  How many "portal" customers out there wouldn’t need all those capabilities?

IBM’s "Websphere Portal for Multiplatforms" is, similarly, a collection of existing IBM products ranging from its Websphere Application Server to its DB2 database and application development tools.  Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server adds document management and search services to its core Windows client and server platforms, but relies heavily on existing Microsoft products such as the Exchange of messaging platform and its Office productivity suite.

My advice?  Use the word "portal" if you must in your marketing literature, but move past it as quickly as you can and devote most of your message to describing specifically how your product makes portals possible.  Is your strong point heavy-duty integration with legacy applications?  Is it your workflow document management capabilities?  Your ability to leverage existing authentication and access control systems?

Whatever your strong point is, step out from behind the "portal" buzzword and explain it to the customer.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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