April 2009
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Portals That Walk And Talk Like Ducks

Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook.
A lily-white duck come and swallowed him up, Uh-huh.

Had a look at the People’s United Bank site that has just been launched and recently tweeted. Firstly, well done to everyone involved for getting it live. Always nice to see a new big CMS driven site. It looks good too – nice and clean. Hats off to the designers.

But I do have to ask my friends at Vignette – was it really necessary to use your portal products (Vignette Application Portal and Dynamic Portal Module) for this? I have only looked at the site for 15 minutes, so have probably missed something huge. But I’m going to assume I haven’t and soldier on.
Dark Portal

I realise it is a bank, so there are probably a lot more Portal suitable features behind the different logins. But all of those seem to go off-site away from the Portal implementation at the moment. It’s often the other way round. The post-login functionality is driven by a portal, not the pre-login informational/marketing section. The site seems to be primarily static content. Maybe the content differs depending on your ZIP code – not easy to tell.

Portals are meant to aggregate applications, not provide a set of off-site links to them. The login goes to a server running ASP.NET. The career application is an offsite IFRAME. The branch finder goes to MapQuest. The search goes to Mondo with a secure/unsecure warning. Even the search results are displayed on Mondo, but maybe this is for the term highlighting.

I’ve noticed on the Vignette site that the Portal product is now classified under Intranet , not under Web Content Management. That’s a step in the right direction. It can make a mighty fine Intranet. But it still seems to get recommended as the delivery mechanism for every site you launch.

Maybe there are no downsides to using the Portal for this site. But if it is so easy to fix the friendly URLs , the validating markup, and the TABLE based layouts , I’m looking forward to seeing them in the next release of this site. Google really digs that stuff, and banks really dig organic traffic. At the very least, please put the <link> to vgn-ext-templating.css somewhere after the opening<html> tag.

The implementation was probably a fair bit of effort too, I’m guessing. Did you choose an external spider for the site search because it felt right, or because it is actually quite difficult to implement an internal search on a Portal? Any issues with sessions and bookmarking? Do the editorial team need to use both the VCM and VAP to create new pages, or do they have a nice, single tool that they use to create pages and content? And it is all easy and cheap to maintain?

I guess someone might have played the “we’re not using the Portal functionality for Phase 1, but we need a future-proof platform to carry us forward” card. Or did someone say synergies a lot? Oh for a penny for every non-implemented planned Phase 2 feature I’ve seen. We all love agile development these days; whatever happened to agile product choices? If the post-login part of this site is live on VAP in the next 12 months, however, I’ll eat my hat, apologise, and buy everyone lots and lots of beer.

I really like the VCM. And I really like VAP. But this site isn’t a Portal. Dear Vignette, please don’t make us use VAP for everything. You do have other delivery mechanisms. Dear other major vendors, stop smirking. Many of you do the same.

Not every site is a Portal. Sometimes a Portal is really a Gate To Hell. Here there be Demons.

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