A web portal is a specially designed website that brings information from diverse sources, like emails, online forums and search engines, together in a uniform way. Usually, each information source gets its dedicated area on the page for displaying information (a portlet); often, the user can configure which ones to display. Variants of portals include mashups and intranet "dashboards" for executives and managers. The extent to which content is displayed in a "uniform way" may depend on the intended user and the intended purpose, as well as the diversity of the content. Very often design emphasis is on a certain "metaphor" for configuring and customizing the presentation of the content (e.g., a dashboard or map) and the chosen implementation framework or code libraries. In addition, the role of the user in an organization may determine which content can be added to the portal or deleted from the portal configuration.
A portal may use a search engine's application programming interface (API) to permit users to search intranet content as opposed to extranet content by restricting which domains may be searched. Apart from this common search engines feature, web portals may offer other services such as e-mail, news, stock quotes, information from databases and even entertainment content. Portals provide a way for enterprises and organizations to provide a consistent "look and feel" with access control and procedures for multiple applications and databases, which otherwise would have been different web entities at various URLs. The features available may be restricted by whether access is by an authorized and authenticated user (employee, member) or an anonymous website visitor.
Examples of early public web portals were AOL, Excite, Netvibes, iGoogle, MSN, Naver, Lycos, Prodigy, Indiatimes, Rediff, and Yahoo!. See for example, the "My Yahoo!" feature of Yahoo! that may have inspired such features as the later Google "iGoogle" (discontinued as of November 1, 2013.) The configurable side-panels of, for example, the modern Opera browser and the option of "speed dial" pages by most browsers continue to reflect the earlier "portal" metaphor.
In the late 1990s the Web portal was a Web IT buzzword. After the proliferation of Web browsers in the late-1990s many companies tried to build or acquire a portal to attempt to obtain a share of an Internet market. The Web portal gained special attention because it was, for many users, the starting point of their Web browsing if it was set as their home page. The content and branding of a portal could change as Internet companies merged or were acquired. Netscape became a part of America Online, the Walt Disney Company launched Go.com, IBM and others launched Prodigy (-only users.) Portal metaphors are widely used by public library sites for borrowers using a login as users and by university intranets for students and for faculty. Vertical markets remain for ISV's (Independent Software Vendors) offering management and executive intranet "dashboards" for corporations and government agencies in areas such as GRC and risk management.