Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 35: The Art and Craft of Portalage

Philip Hunter provides an editorial introduction to Ariadne 35.

Welcome to the March/April issue of Ariadne. This issue of Ariadne focuses on the Portal concept. The term 'portalage' (the making of portals) crept (unforced) into a discussion of the portal concept held on the 25th April at the University of London Library (Gateways to Research and Lifelong Learning: Portals in Perspective).

A good question for anyone to ask is: 'What features in a Portal?' since it is an area still lacking in consensus. Geoff Butters analyses the features found in various types of portal, and includes a comparison with the planned features for the JISC Subject Portals. These results come from the EDNER project - a three-year project being undertaken by the Centre for Research in Library & Information Management (CERLIM) at the Manchester Metropolitan University and the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology (CSALT) at Lancaster University. One strand of the project is the evaluation of the JISC Subject Portals. As part of that work a systematic investigation of portal features was undertaken in the summer of 2002 to help develop a profile of features of JISC, institutional, and commercial portals. The EDNER Project defines 'Portal' fairly tightly, as prescribed by the JISC 5/99 Programme and subsequently the Portal Development Programme. This is a particular view of what a Portal is, but the definitions discussed in this article are likely to be useful to those building portals for other communities.

User access to portals is an important issue which has many layers - In 'Access Management, the Key to a Portal' Francisco Pinto and Michael Fraser report on the experience of the UK Subject Portals Project, which is being developed in a distributed environment based on the RDN (Resource Discovery Network) hubs. The project deliverables will allow each hub to customise a portal for its domain-specific needs. It is intended that the SPP will provide single access points with common functionality, including access management, user-profiling, cross-searching, all of which will be supported within a portal framework. This core functionality will provide users with streamlined access to subject-specific datasets. Access Management (AM) for the portal will allow users to be authenticated via several authentication mechanisms against different AM Systems (AMS) and scenarios (e.g. Athens). Thus users logging in from anywhere will be able to have personalised services and obtain authorisation to access protected remote resources.

There is an increasing recognition that digital resources of all kinds are eminently suitable to repurposing and reuse, and developments such as the Open Archives Initiative explicitly recognise the value of sharing metadata about resources with any number of service providers in order to raise visibility, and draw greater attention to the underlying resources. As 'portals' continue to gain ground across the community, there will be an increasing requirement for reusable content of all forms, whether drawn from within the organisation building the portal or gathered from elsewhere. In 'Syndicated content: it's more than just some file formats' Paul Miller takes a look at issues arising from the current enthusiasm for syndicating content to portals or other web sites. Work on the PORTAL Project, funded under the JISC's Focus on Access to Institutional Resources (FAIR) Programme, is raising issues relating to the reuse and reintegration of digital resources of various forms, specifically in the context of 'surfacing' these resources within institutional portals. This article explores a number of these issues, and offers some guidelines for good practice.

The national Collection Description Focus is based at UKOLN and is funded by the British Library, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) and Resource. It aims to improve co-ordination of work on collection description methods, schemas and tools, with the goal of ensuring consistency and compatibility of approaches across projects, disciplines, institutions and sectors. There is an increasing emphasis on mapping and managing information resources in a way that will allow users to find, access, use and disseminate resources from a range of diverse collections. JISC's vision of a managed "information environment" and new programmes of digital content creation have highlighted the role of collection-level description, and this one-day event focussed on the challenge of bringing together distributed content and how collection-level description can help to facilitate the process. The programme included input from several major strategic initiatives including the New Opportunities Fund portal (EnrichUK), JISC's Information Environment Service Registry (IESR), the CC-Interop (COPAC/Clumps Continuing Technical Cooperation) project and the Natural History Museum's Collection Level Description project . The day also featured demonstrator and pilot services from a wide range of collection-level description services. Verity Brack reports on this event held at the British Library (London, 25 March) in her article 'Collection Description Focus Showcase: Mapping the information landscape'.

In 'Functionality in Digital Annotation: Imitating and supporting real-world annotation' Richard Waller (of whom more later) looks at concepts of annotation, with a view to how annotation tools might be used in the subject-gateway environment. This article examines the the uses and characteristics of what we might term "pre-digital" or hand-written annotation before comparing them with the approaches in design that can be made in digital annotation. It is possible that the characteristics of analogue annotation may challenge the design of its digital equivalent, leading to a consideration of annotation functionality from the standpoint of users. Finally the article considers the basic design of straight-forward annotation tools.

Recently, around 80 staff and students at five tertiary education institutions around the UK participated in interviews and focus groups dealing with their expectations, needs, likes and dislikes with regard to institutional portals. The participating institutions included an institute of higher education, an FE college, a 'new' or post-1992 university, a research institution and a red-brick university. Participants included teaching staff, undergraduates, postgraduates and FE students, senior managers and administrators. The qualitative data collected at the research sites was augmented by the results of an online survey. While the 'official' survey period ran from November 2002 – February 2003, the success of the data collection method, which employed a reusable Learning Object from the Iconex repository, has led to the survey remaining available. It can be accessed via the project Web site and remains available to provide a rolling view of user needs and, potentially, to track changes over time. The survey was completed by a total of 557 respondents, of whom some 265 were students. In her article 'Apart from the weather, I think it’s a good idea': Stakeholder Requirements for Institutional Portals: Liz Pearce takes a look at the results of this survey.

Other articles which stand out in an information-rich issue are 'ePrints UK: Developing a national e-prints archive' by Ruth Martin. This article describes the technical work of the ePrints UK project, and outlines the non-technical issues (the organisational issues) that must also be addressed if the project is to deliver a national e-prints service. And also 'Mandated online RAE CVs linked to university eprint archives: enhancing UK research impact and assessment,' in which Stevan Harnad, Les Carr, Tim Brody and Charles Oppenheim make a case for maximising the advantages and the UK's pre-eminence in the Research Assessment Exercise.

We also welcome back Phil Bradley whose popular 'Search Engines' column has been missing for a few issues now.

There is our usual complement of regular columns, plus 'At the Event' reports, and book reviews.Once again Shirley Keane kindly put together the Newsline column.

This is my last contribution to Ariadne as its Editor, after five and a half years. It has been a rewarding experience. We've had more than our fair share of clear writing on difficult subjects over the past few years, and I'd like to thank all the authors and contributors to the magazine from around the world during my time in the editorial chair. Also I'd like to thank in particular the contributors from UKOLN, who have given valuable time and advice where necessary, in addition to writing of a very high standard. Though I'm leaving behind editorial responsibility for the magazine, I hope to continue to contribute articles to the magazine on an irregular basis. I'm still working for UKOLN, but have moved from the Information and Communications Team to the Research Team. I'm now leading the Open Archives Forum project <www.oaforum.org/>.

From Issue 36 onwards, the Editor of Ariadne will be Richard Waller, author of the article on digital annotation mentioned earlier. Some of you will know him from his work on the later issues of the magazine Cultivate Interactive. Richard has in fact co-edited this issue (and performed most of the labour).

Suggestions for articles for issues 36 and 37 are now being considered. As usual, article proposals and books for review should be sent to: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk.

Enjoy the issue.

Philip Hunter
Ariadne Editor