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The difference between a portal and a WCMS

What is the difference between a portal and a WCMS? I've been asking myself that question since the beginning of this thesis. Others have asked as well. Indeed, the WCMS I've been working on for Primetime used to be called Primetime Portal.

Now it seems the question is bubbling around in the CMS blogosphere these days. John Quirk suggests "..if they are dealing with content a CMS solution is where they should be focused. If they are planning on allowing access to back end applications or information stored in those applications, a portal solution is a better fit.". Toby Ward claims the gap will shrink (or blur, perhaps making it easier to fall down the gap?) as both product families grow and mature. Bob Boiko suggests Knowledge Portals are the last trick from the KM camp. James Robertson has written a white-paper on business portals, explains the concept of portals rather well.

When I present my thesis to more-or-less technology aware people, they sometimes ask "Oh, you're writing about portals then?". The word portal sometimes seems to have become synonymous with company homepage. The definitions are a bit loose, so the answer could actually be yes. The views below explain why:

Portal people: Content management is part of the portal. We have a CMS portlet in our portal. A CMS alone doesn't have personalization or integration of different content sources, nor pluggable functionality in the form of portlets.

CMS people: A portal is just one way to display the CMS to the end user, just like a blog is another (smaller) way to perform CM. Portal is just a hyped product name. CM is the theory behind it. We have pluggable functionality in the form of templates. Personalization is pointless (who cares if you want a pink webpage?).

A CMS is content oriented. Is a portal knowledge oriented? Portals try to be the silver bullet of corporate information management, but the above bloggers suggest that they have become too complex and do still not possess sufficient CMS functionality. Don't get me wrong, portals are very useful for distributed corporations, serving as a central source of information. I haven't played around with too many enterprise class portals, but I can guess they still lack CMS-functionality like content version control, wysiwyg editing and workflow, as Ward mentioned.

So how to relate to portals in the thesis? Should a portal be part of a CM strategy, or should the portal be an integration tool outside the CMS? I think I'll go for the latter alternative and rather focus on WCMS, might mention portal in a side note.

Disclaimer: Suffering with a terrible cold here, so mind that some of these ramblings might be fever inspired ;)

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