Portals – Lessons Learnt

In the paper, A False Dawn Over the Field of Dreams? [full-text no longer available], Stephen James Musgrave looks at the UK experience with community portals, including educational ones. He refers to a study of portals that divided them into a four-layer scale of interactivity:

  1. Promotional: sites providing information but little interaction.
  2. Content: sites providing more sophisticated information and some interaction.
  3. Content Plus: sites providing very useful content and more advanced on-line self-service features.
  4. Transactional: sites which are accessible, complete, thoughtful, and coherent; and with more than one type of on-line interaction (e.g. payment, application, consultation, bookings).

Only 2% of sites were considered Transactional – pity.

In concluding how to blend people and technology, Musgrave states:

The People and Technology improvements addressed in this narrative are required so as to enhance a portal based delivery of citizen-centric services through the adoption of common standards, and the development of common components. Technology improvement through systems integration is required to achieve the interactivity demanded by users; giving services that will be valued by users. The use of open source software – with vendor support – is likely to become a "middle way" that gives ownership of core elements to the portal developer community; minimising problems with vendor lock-in, whilst enabling industrial strength portal products to be deployed.

Though not a portal, Scott Wilson’s graphical description of a Virtual Learning Environment shows some of the same principles as those espoused by Musgrave. It is a series of smaller pieces (many open source) loosely joined, and focused on the needs of the individual, not the institution. This approach could avoid the hopelessly optimistic "if you build it, they will come" syndrome alluded to in the title.

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