Why I loathe Portaportal

The following is an attack on an idea and a structure. I am in no way trying to attack you if you use Portaportal but I would like to change your mind. I encourage you blasting back in the comments but if you call me names, I’ll likely cry.

Sure, I get a lot of dirty looks from educators when I loathe Portaportal1. Portaportal is, after all, the educators friend.

“Look how easy it is!”

“I can share links with my students!”

“It’s free!”

Yes, yes and yes but just about everything is easy and shareable these days. I have two2 main problems with Portaportal.

Round One – The Surface

I’ll deal with the minor stuff (relatively) first.

The thing is hideous. It is appallingly unattractive- everything from the color schemes to the jagged icons. Who in their right mind comes up with a flesh tone and pink color scheme?
Picture 7

“But,” I can hear the rebukes, “Craigslist is ugly and look how popular it is.” or “I don’t care what it looks like as long as it does what I want.”

First of all, Craigslist is ugly but it’s taking you to free things you actually want. Portaportal, especially in an educational context, is taking you to something you’ve been told you want. That’s a big difference. I’ll put up with ugly if it’s free, bringing me to things I, in my heart of hearts, want and there’s no more attractive3 solution.

Secondly, there’s no reason for educators to eternally accept and be happy with 3rd tier solutions. What would you think of a business using Portaportal? Maybe you wouldn’t notice or care. I would. I’d look at it and wonder with all the more powerful and more attractive ways there are to share links on the web, why in the world would they choose this one. I would then assume they didn’t know about anything better or they decided this was the best. Either way, I’m not drawing good conclusions4.

Round Two – The Core

This is the big one.

Teachers shouldn’t have to double up on work. It’s a waste of time and energy. Portaportal is an online parallel of the old school organization of bookmarks/favorites. I set up my categories (folders in everything but name). I can have categories within categories. If I want a link in two categories, I have to enter it twice. If i need to remove it, I need to remove it twice.

The fact that there’s no real way to aggregate and separate is a key issue. If the link is in my site, I can’t easily make it appear in your site or elsewhere.

Other Issues

  • It doesn’t integrate well into a work flow. If you’re going to use this as your main bookmarking tool then you’ll need multiple portals and keeping things separated is not something I even want to contemplate. If it’s not your main tool then you’re eternally taking something from your bookmarking option of choice and then manually adding it to Portaportal
  • This isn’t the way I want my teachers thinking about bookmarking. It’s on the web but it’s not networked. There’s no social aspect I can easily harness to see who else might be an advantage to me.
  • There are no RSS feeds to let me know when things have changed.
  • This site is eternally outside my other web presences. There’s no way to break off categories from Portaportal and put them on other websites or blogs I have.

So this all started because of a brief twitter conversation with Craig Nansen. Here’s how I use delicious (but really, I could use any bookmarking service with a tag specific RSS feed) to do things that mimic Portaportal in some cases and far exceed it in other cases.

Level One
Delicious has a built in “linkroll” generator although it’s hard to find now. Here’s a direct link. Once you’re there you can set up all kinds of specificity in your feeds based on single tags or a combination of tags. You can then cut and paste the code into WordPress or Dreamweaver or whatever.

You’ve got the option to include your notes and tags. I like that. I can add or remove metadata based on intended audience.

A Few Examples
The first, and easiest, is just putting the delicious feed into a sidebar or blog post. You can see that in the sidebar here. There are a number of plugins that can help as well. To put a similar feed in a blog post or page you’d just paste the link roll code into the editing window in html view. To mimic what Craig did in Portaportal5, I’d set up pages for grades and then child pages based on subject. The interesting thing about doing that would be having a multi-subject list on the grade page for most recent stuff for general interest browsing and then a more direct subject based option if you wanted more specificity. That’d be especially relevant in k-5.

You could get fancy, customize the CSS and make things expandable with some javascript like we did here at the bottom of the page6

Level Two
Secondly, you can use FeedWordPress to autopost from specific tag combinations. You can do that for a specific user account or do it more generally based on a tag (or tag combo) from any delicious user. I’m using that with my tech integration class. They’re posting links of interest to delicious with the URedtech tag and it auto posts them here.
Picture 10

Level Three
The third is a page I built about 4 years ago. I freely admin it’s not particularly attractive but it’s ugly in a way that I can control. There are all kinds of feeds coming in via a variety of delicious linkrolls. Additionally, there are feeds coming in from a flick RSS feeed and one from a Technorati search. Granted, this is far more than most teachers would want to do but it’s an easy thing to set up as a template.
Picture 9

Other Things I Like
I use the send option all the time in Delicious. Once again, it cuts out steps for me. Instead of cutting and pasting into an email and then that person going from email to browser, it’s all in the browser and all in the context of bookmarks. It keeps things clean and concise.

I find lots of things through my network of strange bookmarkers. I’m not really interested in the increased community available on diigo or other sites. I just want to skim the data here. For me, and you may differ, bookmarks are about harnessing collective energy. I don’t need or want the extra layer of conversation around these bits of data.

In the end, of course, you do what works for you. Different people need and want different things. I just hate to see educators following technologies that are essentially dead. Portaportal doesn’t build skills or help expand people’s thoughts on how information should be shared and organized effectively and efficiently in a world where information can flow. It’s still stuck in the box mentality. It creates the illusion of progress while still maintaining the exact mindset of the past. Maybe it’s a necessary middle step. I don’t think so. I’d rather see a clean break with that mentality and its related inefficiencies.


1 It may be because I say it in a really low voice and really draw out the looooooaaaaaathe part.

2 Three if you count the name.

3 By attractive I don’t mean glittery and bespangled but well designed and thought out in terms of a variety of design elements.

4 Harsh, I know but most kids and parents are pretty harsh in their appraisal of teachers and education.

5 I do want to be clear, I’m in no way attacking Craig. He does great things and is an amazing educator. I have the utmost respect for him and what he does. I just really, really don’t like Portaportal.

6 Yes, yes, I know. Purple and green. Not my choice.

Comments on this post

  1. john m said on September 23, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you for this. I have an almost physical aversion to portaportal and you have hit why right on the head.

    • Tom said on September 23, 2009 at 4:15 pm

      Happy to oblige. Glad it’s not just me.

  2. Ajaan Rob said on January 19, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Unlike you, I am a fan of portaportal. Yes, their is room for improvement and it is warranted but I like the simple nature of this 24/7 reference bookmark free service. I do not allow access to my delicious linkrolls for I keep them private. I want my students to access resources that I approve of and have screened for use in class. I do not want them to use other resources (unless I am unlucky and they find them). Changing the subject…I don’t like Barney but my son did when he was that age…same is true with portaportal…I encourage “other” online reference sources as the students grow in computer and internet knowledge and abilities…So I do hope creative improvement does strike at portaportal soon but I will still use it for the public e-reference / bookmark platform that it is today.

    • Tom said on January 19, 2010 at 10:29 am

      Seems if you keep your personal links on Delcicious private you could leave the rest open or have a separate account for your class related links.

      It appears you teach in a university. It seems strange to me you’d worry about controlling student resource access to such a high degree. Personally, I’m happy when students seek out resources above and beyond those I provide (at any level). Even if they end up with bad resources it leads to some good conversations.

      I don’t agree with the Barney comparison at all. Personal and age related tastes in entertainment certainly vary. The TV show doesn’t do anything for you. The functionality of information management options on the internet doesn’t fall in the same box. One of my primary arguments is that Delicious is both easier and superior in terms of what it offers than Portaportal. Certainly university students can handle far more than portaportal offers.

Leave a Reply

Trackbacks and Pingbacks on this post

  1. What Would Tom Woodward do? at bavatuesdays said on September 25, 2009 at 9:14 am

    […] he writes precise and hysterical lampoons , dreams up brilliant projects for his students, tears Portaportal a new one, and writes succinct and useful WPMu posts—all within a week no less—is no reason to […]

  2. Bounty of the Sea, Fluidity of the Web | Bionic Teaching said on September 10, 2013 at 6:31 am

    […] Here’s an old post arguing for […]

TrackBack URL