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The portal craze both helps and hurts KM, and that's good.

Buzzword status alert: "Portal" is just beginning to peak. How high will the portal hype go? Well, serious people are suggesting (erroneously, I believe) that portals may replace Windows. (Omigod, imagine what a multi-buzzworded Linux-based portal could do -- probably replace computers entirely!)

Why the hype, given that a portal is simply a home page that aggregates content useful to the user? As is often the case with hot terms (like "push" and "KM"), the heat comes in large part from confusion. The Street (i.e., financial analysts who generally can't tell their ASCII from an AOL in the ground) are hot on Web portals like Yahoo! and Excite. Yahoo! et. al. became portals because being search sites wasn't enough. To differentiate themselves, they began offering sites such as "MyYahoo," a customizable page that pulls together news and services such as stock and sports information, chat, and, of course, access to Yahoo itself.

Now that all of the search sites have differentiated themselves in exactly the same way, they are all portals.

Now portals are moving inside the organization. Instead of having an internal home page, corporations can offer employees portals that are exactly like the ones they get from Yahoo, except they are crammed full of corporate propaganda (I mean, morale-building information), and provide tools useful for getting your work done. For example, a corporate portal might include links to corporate resources, saved searches, discussion areas, and a "buddy list" of team members currently accessible online.

At a recent AIIM conference, just about every KM company had rebranded itself as a portal company. (At the previous AIIM, they had rebranded themselves "KM.") It's easy to see why. KM is an ill-defined, amorphous, invisible discipline or service or technology. Portals make the benefits of a KM system instantly apparent. It's KM, however, that feeds a portal with its value. So, KM will become an invisible piece of the infrastructure of technology and practice, and will slowly fade from public consciousness. And not a moment too soon; if I hear one more definition of KM from a vendor trying to slip into that space, I just may hurl chunks (wrapped in XML, of course).

So, everyone will have a portal. And portals are important. And portals themselves are relatively easy to build: you need a customization wizard, a set of services that know how to output in HTML (or can be embedded as Java applets), and some type of dynamic publishing engine. None of these will strain the brain of your local weblord.

Thus ironically -- and tragically for the add-no-value financial investors -- portal technology companies will have trouble maintaining their pricing while companies that can output information useful to portals will have to swallow their branding and become simply plug-ins to portals. (Portal companies may try to maintain their value by doing deals with the plug-in value companies.)

Portals are here to stay. And by making the fruit of KM systems readily apparent, they may paradoxically both increase the value of KM while making KM invisible

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