Monday, July 26, 2010

Are Portals Headed for a CRISIS? Channel Rendered Identity Served Information Sharing

Having managed delivery of eGovernment services over the Internet for the past 15 years, I’ve lived through the rise of the “Intentions-Based Portal” in programs including,,,,, and The multi-subject, user customized characteristics of these Internet Portals reflected commercial success in community portals like Yahoo, Compuserve and AOL, but were fundamentally budgeted to provide strategic cost-savings via improved government efficiency – by delivering government information and highly-transactional services to constituents.

While Yahoo was all about creating a Portal for users’ entertainment, directory assistance, shopping, and social networking, serving both subscribers and advertisers, and other eGovernment Portals were all about more rapid, effective and comprehensive delivery of citizen services – serving both the public and agency employees. Different missions, but similar and overlapping audiences focused on a single channel, the world wide web (WWW). The focus on the audience and user-customized views, plus efficiencies gained from centralized content publishing and single-sign on, drove a rapid proliferation of Portal and accompanying Content Management System (CMS) software from now-defunct vendors including Plumtree, Eprise and BroadVision.

Portals are still here, and in widespread use – as are Portal software products, though now mostly the domain of IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle. You enter the portal through your computer, choose the information or transaction you need, and then use the results in your businesses or other activities. It stays, you come and go. The portal may reproduce or extend application features and functions from other software, to this central “marketplace”, but it’s usually a shallow implementation that’s not very contextually and semantically-aware. It really doesn’t know “the Situation” ©Jersey Shore.

For example, a typical eCommerce site will, after you log into the website with your browser, present shopping options, specials, cross- and up-sell suggestions based on your profile and transaction patterns – but it really doesn’t know much about your current shopping situation, nor can you really tell it to behave as if so.

“I’m driving in the car, have a chat going with my sister, whose birthday is tomorrow, and I’m approaching a Mall – would really like to know of any cool electronic or entertainment specials that might interest her, and get suggestions from my friends and family (but influenced by industry reviews and trends). And I want an SMS suggestion right now, since anything else is hard to deal with while I’m looking for parking. If I indicate so, go ahead and ship it overnight, and I’ll pay later and frankly avoid the store altogether in favor of another geo-sensitive, socially-aware SMS suggestion (i.e. my friend’s cookout) – that’s just the way I roll.”

Enter the need for, and developing implementation of, the “channel-rendered identity served information sharing” service. Sitting there in my car, a service like this can not only record explicit commands and analyze recorded profile indicators, but infer contextual variables (like things I might want or need, location-based factors, news and knowledge-driven information) based on my channel and identity. My channel is a certain mobile platform and preferred communication style, in motion through a certain time and place, and in proximity to other available channels. My identity includes my own profile and status along many social, personal and business vectors, along with the intersection of those of my contacts in different groups, with different relationship levels. In this particular situation, I need information to be shared among several services and people towards the end of supporting my core mission, and perhaps asynchronous objectives that may be impacted. Even if my battery dies.

The vision rendered here isn’t supported by typical Portal and Content Management software, even with a largesse of integrated social media collaboration tools, semantic search and suggestion functions, and curated, real-time content feeds. This is primarily because what I need isn’t wholly-contained in one Software implementation (and license/payment agreement), but is dynamically-provisioned in a situational-aware manner by many providers, drawing on many data sources, and capable of real-time adjustments in the quality, quantity and personality of information supplied. I’m driving the car, therefore, can’t I drive my own information-sharing service? Is not my personal web presence more important than yours? Why do I need a home page?

How then, is this accomplished…

Many elements are required to pull this off, and many constraints exist – though far fewer than last year, and exponentially far fewer than in the previous. Dynamic socialization, i.e. starting a multimedia conversation across user-preferred channels in real time in response to an event – this is possible. Geo-spatially aware services that provide both proximity and contextually-significant perspective – keying off your cellphone and rendering via the heads-up display in your car – this is possible. Search engine execution and results curation of your 6-word request for information – infused with friends’ suggestions, aligned with your folksonomy, filtered for noise, and inclusive of commercial or community advertisements metered to your personal tolerance – this is possible. Offering all these services in a single software or application solution with an enterprise-driven governance, security and knowledge management model – this is not possible, and certainly not with a typical Portal product.

It is possible with smart, dynamic implementation of information-sharing services that are driven, in real time, by situational awareness of a person’s identity and access to information-delivery channels. So a single software product or set of services is unlikely to do the trick – a user-controlled implementation of a flexible services framework with open standards, pre-negotiated data governance, and implemented as a contributing node of a broader Internet social ecology will happen, and soon. Products like Jive (social business software), Jackbe (data mashup platform), 4Square (geo-aware social application) are part of the plumbing.

Perhaps a Portal (but not your father’s Portal) is necessary to turn them all on and configure to one’s benefit? Is this actually Google?

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