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An Internet portal is a website that features information from multiple sources. It's designed to be the starting point for a user when they go online and include links to the most common types of information people look for. Virtually every Internet portal is based around a search engine of some type.
The best known Internet portals contain categorized directories of leading websites plus news, weather, entertainment and financial updates. The idea is that users will visit such sites as their first stop when searching for information. In turn, it is hoped the users will then use the company's own search engine if they look for a site not linked to by the Internet portal.
Most major search engines have their own Internet portals. Many use the same branding, but keep the portal at a separate site named Bing. A few still house their main search tool within a portal, effectively giving two different ways to find information from the same site.
Some Internet portals are produced by a particular Internet provider. The most well-known was that of America Online, where at one point the portal was only accessible by subscribers using software rather than being viewable as a public web page. Originally, AOL used a "walled garden" approach by which only particular pages were accessible to subscribers rather than them being able to use the entire web. Usually, these pages were exclusive to AOL. During this time, the AOL portal was the only way for subscribers to find their way around the available online information.
It's also possible for an Internet portal to be focused on a specific subject or topic rather than the Internet as a whole. For example, many national governments have a single website that acts as a directory for individual departments or agencies. This means a citizen can find government information if they don't know the website of the relevant department, or even if they are uncertain which department is responsible for a particular topic.
With mobile devices, it is arguable that the functions of an Internet portal are carried out by the handset itself. Most smartphones will have menu buttons carrying out the functions of a portal, such as links to read an e-mail account, check weather or view stock prices. Compared with traditional Internet portals, these menus can often be much more customizable, making them more user-friendly since unwanted information can be removed.
While Internet portals are good starting points for gathering information, I don’t believe they are particularly useful in their design. Most Internet portals – such as Yahoo and My Way – are a barrage of different links, photographs, etc.
This results in an information overload because rather than finding the one thing I want, I have to look through a barrage of other information to get to it until I am completely familiar and able to ignore the overload.
Google has seemed to fix this overload problem for its users: their homepage is a simple search box with a menu up top. This limits the initial information given while providing links to specific features which users may desire to utilize from the portal.
This lack of overload may be why Google has been so successful, but there may be those to whom information overload is a blessing. So how could an Internet portal capture both types of users?