Mashups and the Corporate Portal
The concept of aggregating data from multiple sites inside and outside the workplace isn't new. As companies struggled to share all of their disparate applications and information resources directly with their employees, many embarked upon a quest to create a single corporate portal. An organization's portal typically provides several features:
- Single sign-on (SSO), which allows users to authenticate only once to obtain access to multiple applications.
- Multiple "portlets" or "islands" that expose information and functionality from disparate systems.
- Interaction (or integration), which allows portals to influence one another's behavior. For example, a search portlet may cause the contents of other portlets to be filtered.
- Access control, which provides for the centralized administration of which information a user may access. A user's permissions on the portal are at least as restrictive as what the user would receive if he or she logged into the underlying application directly. Portals are unique in that they may bring content together from multiple sources wherein the user has varied entitlements.
- Personalization, which allows the user limited ability to customize the layout and presentation of the site to suit his or her own specific tastes and needs.
Of course, as our examination of the "80-20" rule suggests, portals will never meet the requirements of all users, all of the time. At best, they may meet the lowest set of common requirements across a broad audience (the 80%). The most specific requirements are typically the least general (the 20%), which explains why most corporate portals typically confine themselves to broadcasting company news, managing health and benefits information, and tracking the holiday calendar. Personalization, the latecomer to the portal infrastructure, was a desperate attempt to address this shortcoming. Unfortunately, users typically don't get a say in choosing which content can be personalized or how it can be manipulated.
At my daughters' nursery school, their teacher maintains order by telling the children, "You get what you get and you don't get upset." Those days in computing are passé. Whether we are talking about the corporate business user who wants to come to the office each day to a personalized workstation or a customer who wants to view your company's information in a certain fashion that suits his Web-based applications, this is the age of individualized construction.
When the popular social networking sites MySpace and Facebook published open APIs to leverage their data and create interfaces around it, thousands of users became bona fide developers. They quickly learned to build their own personal portals. This same demographic is just now beginning to enter the Enterprise 2.0 workforce. They won't be content to operate within the confines of a single, stoic portal that restricts how they consume and manipulate information.
A new metaphor for user interaction has recently emerged that, combined with mashups, threatens the relevance of the enterprise portal. Whether you know them as widgets, gadgets, or snippets, they are the small plug-in components that originated on the Web and have migrated to the desktop (e.g., Apple Dashboard, Yahoo Widgets, Google Gadgets, Microsoft Vista Desktop Widgets). The tools for creating these "mini-applications" have become easier to use and more familiar to a much broader audience.
If enterprise mashups are the path to user-created data and widget platforms are the environment for presenting that information, the combination of the two represent the death knell for the corporate portal. At best, it will morph into a set of core services that provide information to mashup-powered personal environments.