A Web portal is most often a specially designed web site that brings information together from diverse sources in a uniform way. Usually, each information source gets its dedicated area on the page for displaying information (a portlet); often, the user can configure which ones to display.
The original portals were search engines. The initial value proposition was to offer a full text index of document content and a chance to take advantage of the hyperlinking capabilities built into the web protocols.
Internet navigation sites, such as Yahoo!, Excite, Infoseek, AOL, MSN, Netscape Netcenter and Lycos, represented the next phase of portal development. The term “Internet portal” (or “web portal”) began to be used to describe these mega-sites because many users used them as a “starting point” for their web surfing. The term “search engine” had become inadequate to describe the breadth of the offerings, although search and navigation are still pivotal to most people’s online experience. Compared to the original Internet search engines, Internet portals offer a more structured, navigable interface. Browsing an organized hierarchy of categories developed by people (rather than computers) who scoured the Internet for relevant and useful Websites is more effective than issuing a keyword search against the entire Web.
While these public Internet portals continue to flourish, the market for portal technology is increasingly focused on the better delivery of corporate information. Portal technology has significantly matured since the public search sites were first built, and has been used to build a diverse range of portal types, including specialized portals, enterprise portals, workspace portals, marketspace portals, knowledge portals etc.