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The Rise of the Do-It-Yourself Portal

In the past few days, I've found a number of new portals online. I'm starting to wonder if we can't learn a thing or two from what's happening.

First, via Eisenblog, came Open Learn University's portal, created by Stuart Brown in Netvibes to support OU students and instructors.

Then I find Crimson Connect, the student-run Harvard University portal, developed in the wake of student dissatisfaction with Harvard's "Official" website. (Take note--if you don't create a useful website for your organization, someone else might take matters into their own hands).

And finally, last night I see that Impactiviti has launched a Training Bloggers portal using Pageflakes, featuring feeds from some of the best bloggers in the training and development space. This on the heels of two other portals they've created--Pharmacentral for the pharmaceutical industry and the Marketing Bloggers portal for marketers.

So why should we care?

First, take a quick look around each portal. Harvard's includes access to email and Facebook, shuttle schedules, Boston weather, feeds to student clubs, athletic events and activities, the library--even dining hall menus. Open Learn University's portal has video lesson feeds, feeds to each of their departments, and a keyword search of their content. The Training Bloggers portal includes feeds to several different categories of T&D blogs, pre-selected for quality.

Think about how these types of portals could be used in the nonprofit world:

  • Create a "cause-related" portal that includes feeds to related blogs, audio, video, etc., as well as a calendar of events, etc. I've written about this before and I'm really seeing the possibilities now.
  • Create portals to support better conferencing. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how to improve the conference experience. Portals are another option. Imagine sending an email out to all conference participants with a Netvibes or Pageflakes portal link that includes feeds to weather, newspapers, events, etc. in the location where you'll be holding the conference. It could also include a calendar of events and feeds to the wiki pages I suggested that you use to develop the conference agenda and get the conversation started. It could also include access to MySpace and Facebook modules, audio and video feeds on related content, email, etc. This can also become a way to follow-up on a conference, by adding feeds to those bloggers who are blogging the conference.
  • Create an organizational portal for staff and volunteers and make it the start page for staff so that they can be updated daily on what's happening in the organization.

Putting together a portal is really not that difficult. It's a matter of finding the content you want to include,  setting up the tabs in Pageflakes and/or  Netvibes and then sharing them with the world.

You can see how other people are already doing it. Tony Hirst blogs here about how he created the predecessor to the Open Learn University portal.  PC World  has an article about creating a Netvibes portal or you can check out this screencast that will give you the basic elements of setting up and configuring an account and using tabsharing. If you're interested in Pageflakes, then this tutorial can help get you started.

The tools are there. Many people are already using them. It's just a matter of us figuring out how to use them on an organizational scale to create value for various stakeholders. As I watch what other people are doing with these tools, I can't help but feel that we may be missing something big if we don't act soon.

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