Is the portal the application?

This is a question I remember tossing around eight or nine years ago when I was an analyst tracking the enterprise portal market at Giga Information Group.

Those from the application integration world tended to see portals as empty frameworks (with authentication and customization services) into which apps or data sources could be plugged. But those (like me) that came from from the search and information access world saw a portal as encompassing more functionality in and of itself for collaboration, search and information access. So is the portal an entry point or a destination?

This question hasn’t reared its head in awhile since portal products were mostly subsumed into the application platforms of IBM, BEA and Oracle — as pretty generic portal frameworks. Even SAP’s portal has been mostly a UI to SAP’s apps as opposed to one itself.

But with the advent of social computing, the question seems to be returning. I met with open source portal play Liferay this week, a vendor that is busy adding social software capabilities to its portal. Liferay notes many customers, particularly in Europe, still looking for traditional portal framework capabilities, for the portal to serve as an aggregation point for accessing other apps.

Here in the US, Liferay is seeing more requests for integrated collaboration capabilities, like profiles, wikis, blogs and discussion forums, that are delivered to end users in the portal itself. The company is even toying with out how best to refer to its product in this new world. Is it still a portal?

Liferay isn’t the only portal vendor taking such steps. The BEA AquaLogic User Interaction group (the horribly named result of BEA’s 2005 Plumtree acquisition) has been busy adding social capabilities as well, packaged up in a new 6.5 release announced this week. It’s hard to know what to make of this, given the Oracle acquisitionMike Gotta goes so far as to ask “Should I Pay Attention to BEA?” and Janus Boye is equally pessimistic about the prospects for BEA’s two portal products. But the AquaLogic group has done a nice job enhancing that portal and Pathways is one of the only enterprise tagging tools on the market (Connectbeam has another).

BEA’s portals aren’t likely to fair well post acquisition because Oracle already has two of its own. But Oracle WebCenter is the one getting the social software enhancements and the one likely to be Oracle’s main pick going forward. SAP and Microsoft are others making portals more social.

What will be interesting to watch is how these portal-based approaches make out in the nascent market for enterprise social software. They’re potentially up against SaaS offerings and on-premise tools that don’t require the portal overhead.

A good example of this is the Clearspace product from Jive Software, which also revved this week to a 2.0 version (and incidentally added customizable start pages to which users can add widgets…sound like the start of a portal?). With these new products, are we eliminating the services of the portal framework – authentication/single sign-on, customization, integration? Or maybe just the portal name?

Tags: , , , , ,


#1 Mike Gotta on 04.09.08 at 4:17 pm

Hey Kathleen … I would add: IBM Lotus Connections (dogear component), Cogenz and Scuttle (open source) off the top of my head re: enterprise tag/bookmark systems.

Connectbeam though is perhaps the best option if you are looking for a standalone tool and are skittish about open source for some reason.

#2 Kathleen Reidy on 04.09.08 at 6:50 pm

Hey Mike – thanks. Yeah, wasn’t going for the comprehensive list in this post, Connectbeam generally strikes me as a good stand-alone option if, as you say, open source is out. I haven’t heard much about Cogenz of late.

#3 Bryan Cheung on 04.10.08 at 1:40 pm

Kathleen, thanks for the post.

People ultimately want portal functionality, though there’s baggage around the terminology from past unmet promises. In similar fashion, intranets haven’t been “sexy” for ages, but intranet-like site are probably being deployed in greater numbers today than ever, and, more importantly, better fulfilling intranet’s promises.

Regarding social, enterprises will derive the most benefit when they’re able to integrate back end (trad. portal) AND front end (new web-centric and social functionality) into a cohesive whole, but unfortunately that sort of integration is the (elusive) holy grail of enterprise computing.

#4 Lyza on 05.07.11 at 4:09 am

I bow down humbly in the prsecnee of such greatness.

#5 uozjbthz on 05.10.11 at 12:37 am

jOS1by uomwpmajeqgv