I am participating on a team that’s looking at candidate software for the UW enterprise portal. The software that MyUW runs on was written in-house here, back before the term “portal” was even used in this context, and it makes little sense to pretend it is cost-effective for us to continue to develop our own code when there are other platforms that are widely used and supported, like Liferay and uPortal. There are also new needs for a web platform that allows easy integration of related applications, most pressingly in the area of research administration.
That being said, I keep wondering whether the concept of an enterprise web portal even makes sense anymore. We are at the beginning of a time where, instead of turning to monolithic portal sites that centralize information access and interaction, people increasingly consume information and applications in smaller bite-size pieces, distributed across multiple locations and devices. Individual gadgets show up now in Windows and Google, while Apple calls them Dashboard Widgets. These small “mini-applications” are characterized as being quick to develop and easy to deploy, making for low barriers to entry for information providers and consumers alike. Perhaps the best current examples of this trend are iPhone apps, which have grown to encompass apps for access to enterprise information as well as games and consumer interests. One notable trend is the bundling of specific pieces of content, like ebooks, as individual iPhone apps. People are selecting a variety of methods of interacting with different pieces of information, such as text messages on mobile phones, rss messages flowing into readers, and text-to-voice phone calls, in addition to traditional methods such as email or desktop web interfaces.
I can imagine a world where, for example, a UW grad student chooses to run the Course Registration App on her iPhone, gets SMS text message notifications of Husky volleyball and womens’ basketball scores, gets messages from her faculty through Facebook, receives notifications of grant opportunities on Twitter, and has access to her research data and apps for interacting with it via a web browser on her full-featured laptop.
It is at least conceivable, if not a foregone conclusion, that the future of enterprise portals lies more in the direction of a distribution hub instead of a single site where people interact with all of their information and applications. I think of this as being analogous to a take out counter as opposed to a full-service restaurant. Perhaps we should think of the Amazon or the iTunes App Store as the models for the portal of the future, where we can find the app or piece of content we need, see what the authors (or distributors) as well as other consumers have to say about it, and choose to download the appropriate version for the platform of choice.
Has anybody else been thinking along these lines?