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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The third age of portals

After their advent in the late nineties web portals came a long way. Nowadays, they are complex and powerful tools – which demand knowledge and experience to be utilized. To understand this, it is necessary to realize, that portals went through three ages, which were shaped by different paradigms about what portals are and what they ought to be used for.

 The first age of portals – the prehistory of web portals so to speak – began in the late nineties and went until 2006. In those years, portals were mainly used as GUI integration technology: they integrated already existing applications with one login and with a unified navigation or menu. Application integration was the main concern during that era. That’s why portals still carry around a lot of different technologies how integration can be achieved: iframe, link integration, widgets, portlets, WSRP and others. Portlets became standardized with JSR 168 and JSR 286 and seemed to open up a new world of GUI components, some people even calling it GUI SOA. 

The second age of portal started around 2007. From this time onwards, due to the necessities of web 2.0, people began using portals to implement web sites of all sizes, which put the emphasis on content. This is why most portals today offer extensive support for content integration like standardized JCR interfaces or even whole off-the-shelf web content repositories. But still, portals were regarded as an integration technology (cf. picture), albeit a complex one, offering individualized views for different roles of users. Moreover, portals became equipped with so-called social collaboration capabilities, like wiki, chat, communities and groups. Portal frameworks were very successful with this task – much more than with the integration objective – and a lot of programmers got to know them better and in more detail. Soon they realized: there is even more to portals…
Portals as integration technology
The third age of portals began around 2010: portals were also used as web application frameworks. This came in handy, since portals already are equipped with what all the web applications need: login, session management, user management, navigation, database connectivity and many many more. Portals not only offer technology but also concepts how to apply them and coordinate them. Thus, people began building business web applications based on portal frameworks, which also meant to use portlets as building blocks for these applications. This is where we are now: we are denizens of the third age.
Actually, this is where a lot of trouble begins. But that’s a different story, and maybe another post.


  1. everything is true and perfectly described

    Volker Obel

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