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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

EVOLVING PORTAL

More and more companies have been adopting a portal-based intranet. Portals give users an easy gateway for obtaining large quantities of information on one page. This eliminates the need for the user to go to multiple locations to get the information they need. Online portals such as Yahoo! allows us to obtain news, weather, sports scores, mail, games and so much more on just one page. Another portal is Amazon’s A9.com search portal, which lets us do searches on multiple areas without going to separate pages. We can search for web pages, books, images and much more on one page. A9.com utilizes Ajax to display the information on the screen. This allows for a great user experience since the user does not have to sit and wait for page re-rendering when new search results are displayed.

THE EVOLVING PORTAL

Over the time, portals have evolved from simple sites that let us check our mail and do a search to elaborate setups that allow us to obtain a large amount of information in little effort. By comparison, in the past we had to check one site for news, another for comics, and another for a search and so on. Either we had tons of bookmarks for the sites that we checked daily or we just mentioned our routine of what addresses to type into the browser.
THE CLASSIC PORTAL
We are all accustomed to classic portals – we have been using them for years – and a lot of company intranets are using them to improve company performance by having everything in one place. The classic portal is one that allows a user to log into the system and have the content personalized to her tastes. For example, a company portal can have one setup for a salesperson and another setup for a computer programmer. Both of these employees may need to have a window to the company calendar, but they both may not need to see the sales figures or the bug report for the applications. By limiting what they can see, we increase company security and improve the employees performance since they do not have to search for information all over the company intranet.
Another example of a classic portal is Yahoo! When we log into Yahoo!, we can check mail, change the weather to fit our current location, change the look and so much more. As shown in the figure, Yahoo!’s portal is customized to the needs of the user.

Before incorporating Ajax, Yahoo! accomplished this by sending us to maintenance screens to alter the information. One example of the maintenance page allows us to select the city that we live in so that the weather forecast is for our area. Later they have enhanced the user experience even more by incorporating Ajax into the portal in the same way that Amazon did with the A9.com portal.


THE RICH USER INTERFACE PORTAL

With an Ajax portal, the rich user interface is more dynamic than a classic portal while positively impacting the user’s experience. We can add new content and change the way the content is displayed in a seamless manner. A great example of this seamless interaction is in Amazon’s A9.com search portal. Let’s look at how that works. In the following figure, a search has been performed for Eric Pascarello with only the web checkbox selected.



Now let’s narrow the search results. We know that we are looking for a book that Pascarello has written, so we click the Book checkbox. The Book Results page is inserted into the right-hand side of the page. The search results for Eric Pascarello’s books are displayed without posting the entire page back to the server to obtain them.
Another example of using Ajax to enhance the portal experience is in the configuration of the portal. Ajax allows the user interface to become part of the configuration-management tools by having the user click on objects in the window instead of going to another web-page to configure the setup. The user can dynamically resize and position the elements on the screen, thus customizing his portal to fit his needs exactly.

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