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Portals vs. Web CMS - What's the Difference?

In recent years, enterprise portals have increased in popularity with their inclusion of web content management systems (WCMS). But this has begged a question in the industry: what is the difference between a portal that includes a WCMS and a WCMS product?

The basic answer is summed up in two parts — the use case and who the product focuses on. In other words, a key use of a portal server is building websites with role-based content, and the focus is on enabling end-users to interact within the website. Meanwhile, a key use of a WCMS is building rich websites while focusing on enabling developers to build and manage the content.

Some Background

Portal servers picked up in popularity starting in the early part of 2000, providing a central platform for accessing web content and resources (data, docs, apps, integrations, alerts, etc.). A core feature of a portal was providing a central URL that would provide a custom web experience based upon the users’ login identity. This functionality was termed role-based content delivery, or RBCD, and was a main focus for portals.

These RBCD-based websites allowed an enterprise to develop a central web platform. Enterprises could then advertise a single URL, or website, and thereby increase the usage of the entire enterprise’s resources as the central portal would integrate or guide users to other resources. RBCD allowed administrators to build portal pages for different user types to customize the user experience based on a user’s “formal identity,” such as a salesperson, engineer or manager.

Portal + Web CMS vs. Web CMS

Given portal pages included both applications (portlets and widgets) and web content, most portals began supporting integrations to an external WCMS allowing content to be created or managed in a WCMS but appearing in a portal page. This two-step process of adding content prompted other portals to create an embedded WCMS.

Portals additionally began to focus on end-users, allowing such users to interact with the system. Users were allowed to create their own pages or sites, to add collaboration apps to those pages and to define user access to those pages. Many portals then enabled power users with added features, such as web forms, workflows, dynamic lists and polls.

This focus on enabling the end-user, combined with RBCD, allowed a central site enabling both the formal organizational structure as well as the informal organizational structure (a.k.a., social collaboration) and is a major difference between portals and many WCMS systems.

Portals + Web CMS Similarities

A WCMS, however, can be configured to do many of the same things a portal can do and can add social collaboration either embedded or integrating with an external system. A WCMS will have many additional features for building rich websites. Examples are rules engines, advertising engines and A/B testing, some of which can also be implemented using portal servers.

Conclusion

While there are overlapping features between a Web CMS and a portal that includes Web CMS, the differences should be reviewed carefully when determining the focus and future of a new web project.

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About the Author

Paul Hinz is the Chief Marketing Officer for Liferay, Inc., the world’s leading open source enterprise portal. Before Liferay, Mr. Hinz led strategies for Java EE and the GlassFish Portfolio product lines and was Sun Microsystems' strategist for portals and collaboration. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/paulhinz.

 
 
 
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