Web portals still relevant but user engagement needed

Online portals still relevant today not as a single gateway to the Web, but as interactive, engaging multi-platform sites accessible to users from various channels, say industry players.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Web portals are not passé and are still relevant in today's digital era, insist industry players, but stress that online portals today must evolve from being "one-stop" siloed gateways.

Michael Smith Jr., director of global tech initiatives at Yahoo, told ZDNet Asia that Web portal as a term may be passé, but it still has its relevance today in an increasingly digital world.

Among various features and functions, portals deliver content, enable conversations, data-sharing and comments, and support communities, blogs and social media platforms. They allow advertisers to reach target audiences, and offer services such as e-commerce and e-mail, Smith added. Through portals, businesses can also initiate technological advancements such as cloud computing in order to support their users and services on a global scale, he said.

Ng See Sing, general manager of NCS Portal City, which builds Singapore's public e-services portals including NS Portal and One.Motoring, said portals are still relevant today as they are still the preferred mode for transactions, particularly for those involving sensitive data, given their higher levels of security,

But while the role of a Web portal as a platform to showcase an organization's core products or services has not changed, Smith noted that in the present day, portals need to be less static and more interactive.

Rather than being simply an information provider and gateway to the World Wide Web, portals are "ever-changing, evolving macro sites [and] experienced creators [that] seek to constantly engage with their audience", he explained.

The development of Yahoo's portals reflect this, he noted, progressing from Web search and Web mail to now offering a "diverse" range of products and properties centered around content and personalization.

The Internet company also made its portal available across different mediums and touch points including the PC, feature phones, smartphones and tablets, he added.

For Wong Hoong An, chief evangelist officer and co-founder of HungryGoWhere, a Singapore-based food-centric community site, portals can no longer be a "one-stop shop" today because there is little loyalty among consumers when choosing which sites to visit.

Instead, portals with longer staying power and do well in the industry are those that provide users information and links through various third-party, niche sites, rather than try to keep all Web traffic within their own portals.

Such sites also gain from directed traffic, Wong said in an e-mail. For instance, links to HungryGoWhere's food reviews are posted on entertainment and lifestyle portal xinmsn. By opening up the portal, all parties from the portal, users and third-party sites, benefit from the "ecosystem" created, he explained.

Open up interaction, engagement
Ng from NCS similarly noted that portals today are "not merely unified gateway to transactional services". They are increasingly embracing social media and provide "highly-synergized critical touch points" beyond the traditional Web portal such as mobile devices.

And in the case of public portals, there are also collaborations with private-sector partners to offer users value-added content, he said.

For instance, he pointed out that the revamped NS Portal for national servicemen in Singapore offers lifestyle content that users like and also has a social networking platform, NS Connect, for users to network and interact. The portal also has a mobile version, NS Mobile, to cater to the increasingly mobile generation of users, he added.

Ng highlighted that the online government-to-citizen communication portal landscape is moving away from a one-way transaction to two-way engagement. Combined with increasing user demand for enhanced click-through experiences, public portals have since evolved to reflect and cater to these changing consumer patterns, he added.

The same transformation goes for enterprise portals, he observed, with an emerging transition to social business models that capitalize on the nature of social networks as a strategic platform to support customer engagement or staff collaboration.

It is due to such a variety of different features, functions and user groups that portals can continue to serve, Ng said.

When deciding on a list of must-have features for a portal in today's Web 2.0 age, he urged businesses to think about how the available tools and technological developments can come together to drive the objectives of their portal.

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