Bob Jensen's Threads on Knowledge Portals

Bob Jensen at Trinity University

Fathom users will have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with the leading experts in their field. Fathom's unique architecture will provide a powerful "search and explore capability" that will allow users to follow their interests, independently or with expert guidance, across the widest possible range of subjects. 


Useful Devils


Portals in Higher Education



Miscellaneous Examples of Knowledge Portals

How a University Can Build Knowledge Portals

The Brain

Audio Portals

Talking To and Listening To Computers Via Telephone


"Useful Devils," by Mark C. Taylor, Educause Review, July/August 2000 --- 

This is a heavy duty article that I think every educator should read with care from beginning to end.  It deals with very controversial issues beginning with the first " modern university" (The University of Berlin) that commenced in 1810. 

Immanuel Kant developed the blueprint for this university in a work entitled The Conflict of the Faculties, published in 1798. Kant began his analysis by arguing: 

 Whoever it was that first hit on the notion of a university and proposed that a public institution of this kind be established, it was not a bad idea to handle the entire content of learning (really, the thinkers devoted to it) by mass production, so to speak—by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee, and all of these together would form a kind of learned community called a university (or higher school). The university would have a certain autonomy (since only scholars can pass judgment on scholars as such) and accordingly it would be authorized to perform certain functions through its faculties

In this remarkably prescient passage, Kant associates higher education with mass production and, by extension, with what eventually becomes the logic of Fordism. Accordingly, the university is structured like an assembly line with discrete divisions and departments turning out uniform products with predetermined values. The curriculum and the education of students are linear processes, which are programmed by the producer. University professors are divided between so-called higher and lower faculties. The “higher” faculties are law, medicine, and theology, which represent what we today call professional schools. It is important to note that the university Kant designed is supported by the state. The purpose of the higher faculties is to provide the educated citizens that the government needs to maintain a functional society. The “lower” faculty, which Kant defines as philosophical, comprises what we now label the arts and sciences. The higher faculties are charged with providing practical education, whereas the responsibility of the lower faculty is disinterested inquiry and critical reflection ... 

There really is too much in this article to capture in brief quotations.  But I will quote the closing paragraph:

Change is never easy and always threatening. Yet change is what keeps institutions as well as people alive. Unfortunately, no institution is more resistant to change than the college and university. Perhaps it has always been so, but now time seems to be running out. If colleges and universities do not overcome their smug satisfaction with how they do business, the Michael Milkens of the world will indeed eat their lunch. The challenge that educators face is to turn the useful devils of business and technology to their own ends. If usefulness is a devil, it’s a devil we must learn to dance with or educational institutions will become more obsolete than they already are. This is neither a threat nor an ultimatum; it is just a fact—a brute fact. And it’s time to face this fact directly and honestly.

Vortals are vertical portals that provide information from only a thin vertical section of the web. For example, a vortal might search only those sites on public accounting. VerticalNet ( offers portals to industries including communications and advanced technologies. Vortals typically do link to specific topics as deeply as knowledge portals.

An example of a vortal --- Export Vortal -- US Department of Commerce 

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore." (From The Raven by Poe)
Lotus Development Corporation is creating a Knowledge Vortal on Management 

Technically, Raven is a standalone knowledge server that integrates the key components required for a strategic knowledge management infrastructure. Using several leading-edge technologies, Raven: 

"Raven" will provide a single portal that will allow end users to find and discover useful information and applications on a given subject; make the user aware of other knowledgeable people in the company; and organize all related tasks, teams and projects. From an organizational standpoint, "Raven" provides virtual places where people and content are brought together to improve company responsiveness, speed innovation, enhance employee competency and increase efficiency. "Raven" leverages the Lotus Domino messaging and Web applications infrastructure, making it easier for a company to build and deploy business-focused knowledge management applications on top of their collaborative infrastructures. In addition, "Raven" capitalizes on IBM's unique experiences and technologies in data and information management.

"Our integrated approach will allow customers to benefit from IBM's expertise in leveraging information and learning and from Lotus' leadership in collaboration. This will enable customers to implement solutions that fully optimize their knowledge assets," said Scott Smith, Managing Principal, Global Knowledge Management Services, IBM Global Services. "Together, Lotus and IBM are uniquely qualified to provide the technology, process and organizational services to offer our customers the full breadth of knowledge management and e-business solutions."

Raven Allows Organizations to Discover What They Know Through People, Places & Things

Today's complex, global organizations suffer from geographical and time constraints, slow diffusion of information, employee turnover and the inability to find the right people with the right information. "Raven" builds upon Domino's messaging and groupware infrastructure to create a fully integrated knowledge management platform that fosters successful knowledge creation and sharing by bringing people and content together in a virtual collaborative setting. "Raven's" set of integrated services extend the value of Domino by cataloging content and people; determining value, meaning and relationships; delivering the right information to the right people at the right place and time; and providing communities with a tailored environment in which to work.

"Raven" is a single integrated product aligned under the Lotus theme of "People" (expertise location), "Places" (portal) and "Things" (content catalog). 

"Portals in Higher Education," by Michael Looney and Peter Lyman, Educause Review, July/August 2000 --- 

This is an outstanding introduction to web portals in general and educational portals in particular.  As you recall (from my August 22 edition of New Bookmarks), a tremendous education portal is under construction at Columbia University.  It is called Fathom --- 

A few selected quotations from the Looney and Lyman article are given below:

Let’s start with a simple definition, and then explore some of the variations of portals. At the most basic level, portals gather a variety of useful information resources into a single, “one-stop” Web page, helping the user to avoid being overwhelmed by “infoglut” or feeling lost on the Web. But since no two people have the same interests, portals allow users to customize their information sources by selecting and viewing only the information they find personally useful. Some portals also let you personalize your portal by including private information (such as your stock portfolio or checking account balance). Put simply, an institution’s portal is designed to make an individual’s Web experience more efficient and thereby make the institution as a whole more productive and responsive.

. . .

The two most popular consumer portals are AOL and Yahoo! AOL ( ) has over twenty-five million users averaging 12 minutes per session.2 Yahoo! ( ) has over twenty-two million users averaging nearly 25 minutes per session and is the classic directory portal that most other portals have imitated. Portals often seem similar from one site to another because publishers of generic consumer information, such as InfoSpace ( ) and MyWay (  ), license the same information services to many dot.coms. companies may license these information to companies as B2B (business-to-business) enterprise or use them on student-oriented web pages as a B2C (business-to-consumer) enterprise.

. . . 

According to the Delphi Group’s published survey results, 55 percent of Fortune 500 companies are already using an enterprise portal or have plans to develop one in the near future. Enterprise portals are intended to assist employees to be more efficient and productive by centralizing access to needed data services—for example, competitive information, manufacturing and accounting data, 401K information, and other human relations data. Enterprise portals often include news, weather, and sports feeds as a benefit for the employee, giving these portals the appearance of a community portal.

Examples of campus portals:

Some campuses have already started developing educational portals to accomplish these goals. The University of Washington has developed MyUW ( ). This portal site uses information in innovative ways that enhance the educational mission, personalizing student data (student debit-card totals, student course information) and providing faculty with ideas and resources for new uses of technology for teaching.  The UW portal seems to have the mission of creating an online community encompassing a diverse and complex on-and off-campus environment. And the MyUCLA site (  ), one of the oldest in higher education, provides a classic directory-style portal, ranging from new modes of accessing campus administrative data to relevant feeds from the UCLA Daily Bruin. 

Fathom:  A must see for looking into the crystal ball of knowledge portals: 

Fathom Partners to Date:

You love to delve into new ideas. You take pleasure in discussion, even if it gets heated, even if you could argue the other point of view just as well. You were born to live in the knowledge economy.

You're going to Hong Kong on business and want to probe deeper than the sound bites on the nightly news. You're tired of web searches that result in 20,347 different kinds of nonsense.

You're a doctor with a crush on art history. You're a fireman with a passion for paleontology. You've recently retired and you've heard that people with active minds live longer.

 You want to participate in the world of ideas, even if those ideas can be challenging and counter-intuitive and complex, because you like it, because it's good for your career, because it's good for your soul, because you can. 

Fathom, a for-profit spin-off, implements one aspect of Columbia's three-part digital media strategy, which also includes Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and Columbia Media Enterprises.

Fathom will address the most serious weakness of information on the Worldwide Web, the inability to authenticate the bulk of its content. All Fathom original content will be authenticated, meaning that the knowledge will be attributed to the appropriate educational or cultural institution and its faculty or professional staff. Fathom's standards of academic and editorial integrity will be monitored by the Fathom Academic Council, a panel of selected senior faculty and curators from participating institutions, which will be chaired by Columbia Provost Jonathan Cole.

Offering the best free content of universities, libraries, and museums, Fathom will enable a worldwide audience of students, working adults, and lifelong learners to explore subjects of professional or personal interest. Much of Fathom's content has never been available outside of the participating institutions.

Examples of Fathom content currently in development include:

A "Main Street" for knowledge and education, Fathom will include a comprehensive directory of related online courses offered by universities and cultural institutions, plus textbooks and other academic titles, specialized periodicals, individual articles and other publications, CD-ROMs, academic travel, and learning resources. Users will enroll in online courses through Fathom, with tuition fees, accreditation, and admission policies set at the discretion of the offering university or cultural institution.

Fathom users will have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with the leading experts in their field. Fathom's unique architecture will provide a powerful "search and explore capability" that will allow users to follow their interests, independently or with expert guidance, across the widest possible range of subjects.

Knowledge@Wharton ---  

In a world where markets change in nanoseconds, knowledge is a source of competitive advantage. Knowledge@Wharton is an Internet-based guide through this volatile environment.

Knowledge@Wharton is a bi-weekly online resource that offers the latest business insights, information and research from a variety of sources. These include analysis of current business trends, interviews with industry leaders and Wharton faculty, articles based on the most recent business research, book reviews, conference and seminar reports, links to other web sites and so on. The web site presents information in layers so that users can pursue their interests to whatever depth they wish. An in-depth searchable database of related articles and research abstracts allows access to information through simple mouse clicks.

Miscellaneous Examples of Knowledge Portals

Learning, or Access, Portals
A learning portal is a Web site that offers consolidated access to learning resources. The most common of these involve access to college distance learning efforts. Designed as virtual campuses, they provide student and faculty with access to course schedules, registration and payment systems, information, and other services. Throughout the course, this portal is used as an interface between the student and learning materials. At present, this type of portal is customized to the student's learning interest, but may provide limited or no capacity for personalization.

Examples of learning portals include multinational efforts, such as TeleCampus from the New Brunswick Learning (; regional efforts, such as Southern Regional Education Board Electronic Campus (; and campus-based efforts, like WSU Online from Weber State University ( The TeleCampus is truly a remarkable collection of online learning offerings from around the world. Courses may be selected by subject, by words contained in the title or description, or by institution. Pop-up windows provide more complete course information including cost, analysis of the offering, and links back to the offering campus to register for the class. The "Before You Begin" section includes valuable information on unrecognized accrediting agencies and unaccredited institutions. The site is not personalized to the student, but provides chat capability and a wealth of useful information for distance learners.

Other Examples

How a University Can Build Portals

The Brain --- 

Problem Whether your audience is a local intranet or a public Web site, each visitor has unique needs each time they come to your site. Searching capabilities are great for those who know what they are looking for, but how can you help them find what they're interested in, when they might not yet know themselves?

Solution Increase your traffic and page views by giving your visitors a fun and effective way to explore your site’s content. TheBrain’s engaging display helps users discover information available on your website quickly and easily. Visitors simply click from one item to the next, following the connections that you create for them, getting deeper into your site’s content and viewing more Web pages.

Audio Portals

In my viewpoint, knowledge portals of the future will offer knowledge in various media.  The three most obvious are text, audio, and graphics.  Text will be available in multiple languages and users will be given a choice as to whether they want to read or listen to the knowledge portal segments.  In most cases, they will also be allowed to both read and listen at the same time if they so choose.  In addition video will be available for some modules.

An Example of an Audio Portal:  BeVocal

The online website demonstrations are at 

Bob Jensen's illustrations for his workshops are at 

TellMe lets you have a phone conversation with it various databases at 
After you sign up for free at the above website, you can phone to have a conversation about the following:

Call 1-800-555-TELL and say:
Tellme My Favorites Sports Soap Operas
Restaurants News Lottery
Movies Election Blackjack
Taxi Traffic Time
Driving Directions Weather Phone Booth
Travel Horoscopes Extensions
Stock Quotes


I have another set of threads called "Talking To and Listening To Computers Via Telephone."  The link is at 

I think the advantage of the computer is that you can have both the audio and the audio transcriptions into text. Hopefully, knowledge portals will do both.

However, present audio portals such as BeVocal can only be accessed by telephone.

One day, we hope that telephones will have the ability to convert your typed messages into audio for the phone and translate the incoming audio into instant text. That day is almost here!

Technology will be fantastic in aiding the deaf. It will be equally fantastic for the blind with the ability to translate text into audio. For Helen Keller-type handicaps, however, technology will be less exciting. There are experiments taking place that link computers directly to the brain and bypass audio and visual sensory preceptors. However, this technology is a long way off.

Deaf people should actively encourage accompaniment of audio with text transcriptions, especially in knowledge portals.


Links to other threads of Bob Jensen are at 

Bob Jensen's homepage is at