Exc-el moving forward 2: The Portal vs. Distributed responsibility
I have had a long-standing distaste for the word ‘Portal’. It was originally used to describe the MFLE and will probably be used to describe the SSDN. Portal implies a gateway to a wider array of information, hence implying that you have to go through the gateway to get information. Some dictionaries also use the word 'elaborate', something you don't want in a web service.
In 2006, though, we don’t need to go in search of information though gate after gate when RSS can bring only the information we want or need to us. I already have one portal, my aggregator, Bloglines, that brings photo updates from Flickr, new posts in people’s blogs, changes in the pages of the website I am helping to develop, search terms I want to monitor (I’ve got one feed in my watchlist at the moment which tells me whenever anything to do with the Uffizi is written somewhere on the planet so that I'm well equipped for my honeymoon), news, weather, Big Brother…
You see, the trouble with any portal is that it has to have the ambition (and succeed in this ambition) to be the only gate that people will have to open to gain access to everything. Otherwise, opening lots of gates one after the other is a pain, and, when you can use the path round the side of the gates (i.e. Google), is pointless. My main gripe with portals other than the aggregator (whose content I only I have chosen) is that they are never personal enough for me. Not even my Google homepage is personalised enough despite them knowing everything about what I like, search for, buy, sell and, importantly, dislike.
So does Exc-el need a portal? It certainly needs a place where journalists and newcomers can go to sign up and get some fairly standard information. But what about when they’re part of Exc-el, writing, podcasting or contributing, and want to get a snapshot flavour of what’s happening and instant ideas on where to go within this wonderfully messy flow of information? I’ve got some ideas in the next post which might help work that one out, but what do you think?