Portal Usability

Jakob Nielsen writes extensively on web usability. A recent Alertbox post presents results of a usability study of portals. Many of these findings apply to school portals as well:

Portal solutions still don’t offer satisfactory usability out of the box.
Absolutely true for schools portal solutions as well. Generalized content-management systems such as Drupal , Mambo, or Plone offer too little school-specific content and too many superfluous features.

Single sign-on is still more a dream than a reality.
Integrating email, file, and web services is not easy for schools unless you stick with one manufacturer, such as Apple.

Personalization for individual users is still rare.
Personalization requires links between your web site and student information systems, which is not always easy to achieve.

We feel we are making progress on the above issues in our portal. Making your own portal is still the best way to go if you have the time.


  1. Nate Aune says:

    You might want to have a look at SchoolTool (http://www.schooltool.org) which is a project to develop a common global school administration infrastructure that is freely available under an Open Source licence.

  2. rkassissieh says:

    Thanks for the comment!

    SchoolTool is off to a great start and will be a legitimate school web site option when more modules become available. My understanding is that it currently offers only calendar and resource management. The student information system is "projected for availability the 2006-2007 school year." Without email, course web pages, discussion forums, blogs, and wiki, SchoolTool is not really a portal (yet).

    My other concern is about Zope-based software. I would love to know what experiences people have integrating Moodle and SchoolTool authentication. My experience installing Plone on our servers is that Zope-based software is not easy to integrate with PHP, PERL, and mySQL based software. I would love for someone to show me a counterexample.

  3. Nate Aune says:

    Also, Plone has adaptors for authenticating users against LDAP or a backend database (such as MySQL or PostgreSQL). So if your email service (for example Squirrelmail) is also using LDAP, then you can offer single-signon for your students.

  4. Nate Aune says:

    You can integrate Plone with other PHP-based services in one of two ways: 1) run the PHP code via the Zope server using PHPGateway/Parser (http://www.zope.org/Members…) or 2) include the PHP applications in an iFrame using something like the mxmProxy tool (http://www.mxm.dk/products/…)

  5. rkassissieh says:

    I appreciate the tips, Nate. I am concerned that authentication is not the same as single sign-on. I’m not a Zope expert, but I could only get Plone to authenticate against Active Directory, not provide single sign-on. Group membership support was terrible, and Enfold Systems’ design of a commercial version of Plone that supports AD groups seems to verify this shortcoming. It was a lot easier to achieve single sign-on with PHP products such as Moodle and phpBB.

    Now this is just one person’s experience, and I’m open to hearing of success stories of integrating Zope-based solutions into intranets with single sign-on.