A free resource-portal ToolKit
THIS week NetSpeak explores the features of a free open-source product that can be used to build resource portals.
The author has come across many netizens who find it almost impossible to retrieve the right information from the web even after spending hours on the Net. Even a skilled web search-engine user may sometimes find it difficult to hit at the right target, as he has to weed out unwanted links from the search engine's output. Though results of efficient/effective search engines such as Google certainly contain several appropriate links, often, numerous unwanted/irrelevant links also creep into the list.
The problem becomes more acute, if you are a researcher looking for in depth or focussed information on a specific subject. That is, for academic and other serious investigations, search engines may not always be able to guide you properly to the right information sources that lie dispersed on various locations on the cyberspace.
One solution to effectively bypass these problems is to develop separate subject-specific search services by subject experts or research organisations. For example, let us take the case of a premiere scientific research institution. It is obvious that the research staff should possess the necessary knowledge and skills to collect/organise the information regarding various on-line resources/services available on their subject.
So, if an organisation regularly collects the data regarding various Net resources/services related to its area and publishes them on the web, it would be useful for others looking for similar information. Another point is that as the information sources are compiled by subject experts, these sites will only list out authentic resource locations. That is, availability of subject-specific search services will make the search process more productive and effective.
Apart from listing out the resource links in response to a search command, a subject-based portal may also contain such additional features as discussion forums to conduct on-line discussions on specific topics, necessary tools to easily navigate/search the contents and other tools that aid collaboration of the community members.
In fact, the class of search tools called subject gateways web sites that provide access points to Net resources focused on a particular subject have been developed based on these ideas. For more details on subject gateways, refer The Hindu dated February 22, 2001.
Setting-up a resource portal
In the past, setting-up an information portal with features discussed above used to be a costly affair as it involved the service of highly skilled web developers.
But, at present, with the availability of many free and easily manageable site/portal-building tools, creating a subject specific portal is no more a technology-intensive task. Here we will discuss the features of the free portal tool kit Scout Portal Kit of the `Scout Project'.
Internet Scout Project
The Internet Scout Project (http://scout.wisc.edu/), sponsored by the National Science Foundation (http://www.nsf.gov/), an agency of the U.S. Government, aims "to provide timely information to the education community about valuable Internet resources".
A major service of this project is its weekly publication, `Scout Report", which provides the latest information on the various resources available on the Net. You can read this publication on-line (http://scout.wisc.edu/report/sr/current/) or can get it through e-mail.
Scout Portal ToolKit
To help organisations create information portals without the help of web experts, the Scout project has developed a `Portal Toolkit' (http://scout.wisc.edu/research/SPT/) that can be used to float a feature-rich information portal quickly.
This open source tool-kit, which is a set of programs, written in the scripting language PHP (http://www.php.net/), can be downloaded for free.
To run the project, apart from the freely available PHP, you need the free database management system, MySql (http://www.mysql.com) and the Apache (http://httpd.apache.org/) web server. If all these tools are installed and working in your system, it will just take a few minutes for you to start your own resource portal. To launch the portal, just download the tool kit archive file and run the installation script that comes along with the archive.
The portal that has been built through this tool kit will have tools to do such tasks as user registration, on-line content creation (directly entering/editing resource information), creating discussion forums, getting user feedback and the like. Another interesting feature is the facility that allows the users to add their own comments about an individual resource. This gives the user an opportunity to present his opinion and get to know what others think about it.
Apart from this, a user can also enter his rating on a resource and this way help the portal creators get some feedback on the resource. You may note that by default these features are disabled and you should enable them by accessing the `Site Administration' option.
As many aspects of the portal can be completely altered, you have the liberty to change the orientation and features of your portal. When you install the portal, it comes up with a set of resources, which has already been entered by the creators of the Portal ToolKit. You may either keep or delete them completely.
Update: Web site download manager
It is likely that you encounter many situations in which you would like to browse favourite web sites off-line. For example, suppose you are travelling and in need of an information available on your company's site. To access the site, you need to reach a place where Net access is available and obviously this is hardly an efficient solution. But, if you have a copy of the site in your laptop, you can browse the site off-line without anyone's help.
There are many programs that enable you download a site completely so that it can be browsed off-line. We have already featured many programs created for this purpose and here is another software of this kind, which is in the experimental stage. The program `Power Siphon', can be used not only to download all the files that form a web site, it can even create a self extractable, executable file (a file with extension `EXE'), which contains a compressed copy of the site's content along with a copy of the `Power Siphon' viewer application. That is, your favourite site can be viewed in any Windows machine by just clicking at this EXE file. For more details, check out: http://www.powersiphon.com/
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