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In this edition





Quote of the month

"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake...”

-- Francis Bacon 

 
Dear <<First Name>>

Happy new year and welcome to our January 2014 newsletter: Web portals

Do you get a frisson of delight on the rare occasion that a search engine fails to return any results?

More likely you are confronted with a long list that you need to quickly scan and evaluate. Before you click on that link, you probably wonder:
  • How relevant is this link? Do I need to click through and read more to find out?
  • How credible is the content? Have I even heard of this organisation?  
  • How clear is the description of the content? Does it make sense?
A well-managed portal can help us find content on other websites which we might otherwise never find. And it can add value by organising and describing the links in a way that is useful to a specific group of people.

We’ve developed a few portals, including the recently launched Biomass Producer. So we thought we’d share some of our tips with you.

We’d love to hear about great examples of portals—let us know via Facebook, Twitter or email us.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:
 

Know your portals from your websites

By Alison Binney


A web portal amalgamates content from multiple independent and credible sources, and points you back to the original source. It acts like a gateway so that the information is easier to find.

A non-portal website, on the other hand, generally presents information as its own source, and is the final destination.

Australia’s national government website—www.australia.gov.au— is a portal. It links to information and services for about 900 Australian government websites, connecting to about 4,000,000 pages.

Check out its Birth, Deaths and Marriages section to see what I mean about how content originates from other sources. You are presented with a short overview of the services provided in each state and territory, and a hyperlink to the original source for more information.

Research networks around Australia use portals to make the masses of available scientific data easier for researchers and the public to find.

The Integrated Marine Observing System collates marine data from Australia’s top research organisations and feeds it into the publicly available Ocean portal.

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network has a portal for all kinds of data collections such as plants and animals, agriculture, water and soils.

Another popular research portal in our region is the National Library of Australia’s Trove, which archives newspapers, photos, maps, books and more from libraries across the country.

DigitalNZ indexes more than 25,000,000 items—including photographs, artworks, newspapers, books, journal articles, music, film and data sets—from more than 120 organisations across New Zealand.

A portal can be a standalone website, or it can be a page within your website. Either way, a portal is a clever way of doing the online footwork for your site’s visitors.
 

Let the portal do the 'Googling'

By Mary O'Callaghan


When it comes to creating energy from plant material (bioenergy), Australia lags behind many other countries. Has communication been part of the reason?

We did some research last year, on behalf of the Rural Industries R&D Corporation, in the area of bioenergy. We asked people in primary industry what they wanted to know about bioenergy, and how they would like to receive this information.

Biomass Producer is the result.



It’s a portal to bioenergy information for people in Australia’s primary industries, especially those people who are interested in producing and supplying the biomass.

The portal has the following attributes:
  • Relevant – We started by identifying the top tasks that people said they wanted to be able to accomplish on the site. And we selected only content that supports these tasks. So we are confident that the content is relevant. 
  • Credible – The sites and publications that we link to are from credible sources. We know because we had a panel of 6 bioenergy experts approve each one.
  • Well structured – The content is structured in a logical way that supports the top tasks. A group of 6 representative users helped us with the information architecture and tested an early version of the portal.
  • Clear – We try to explain each link in plain language so that people know what they are going to get before they click on the link.
  • Easy to use – We've tried to minimise the cognitive load, or amount of 'brain power' needed to use the site, because this affects how easily people find content and complete tasks.
 
All this relevant, credible content is accessible from one place—Biomass Producer. That’s really what makes it a portal.

[Note: The portal is built on the free WordPress content management system. We engaged Design Royale to design and build the site. The portal is also the primary source for a number of bioenergy case studies which we developed.] 
 

Why create a web portal? 3 reasons

By Sarah Cole


A web portal contains information and links to other websites. So you don’t need to host all the content, or duplicate it, on your own website.

SciJourno, one of our recent creations, is a website for journalism students and working journalists who need to report on scientific issues. It has portal-like sections and pages, such as its resources section.



Here are 3 reasons you might choose to use a portal format, illustrated with examples from SciJourno:
  • Provide access to big files or a large amount of content. On SciJourno, we link to a statistics video and the World Federation of Science Journalists website, because the files are too big or too many to host on SciJourno.
  • Link to dynamic content. Articles, social media feeds, and news services may change often and you might want people to benefit from seeing the updates and the comments posted on them. SciJourno links to many articles, science news services and social media feeds instead of hosting static content.
  • Describe the content in your own words. By linking to content, you can describe it as you want, as we do in the art meets science section, instead of having to use the content-owners’ blurb.
Creating a portal can also avoid copyright issues associated with reproducing material. The Australian Government Web Guide emphasises that there is a ‘common, mistaken belief that material posted on the internet is not protected by copyright’.

Are there other reasons you prefer the format of a portal? Let us know.
 

Finding broken links

By Robbie Mitchell


The dynamic nature of the web and the need to continually update content means that URLs for pages and downloads are constantly changing.

All this change can be bad news for web portals, which are full of links. Your portal can quickly lose people if they get error messages instead of the expected destination.

Online Broken Link Checker is a free tool we’ve started using to maintain Climate Kelpie—a web portal we designed for Australian farmers to be a 'one-stop shop' for information and tools about managing climate risk.

We’ve found this tool to be quite thorough as it checks both internal and external links on all pages in the website.

Because it’s an online tool, it can be used on any computer running any operating system. And it can crawl and check any website no matter how it was coded.

This is only one of several link-checking programs available. Let us know what tools you use.


Broken links can damage your reputation. Round them up with a free tool such as Online Broken Link Checker.
 
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