As OSTI Director Walt Warnick likes to say, today's Web is like the Model T Ford -- revolutionary but ready for vast improvement. This is especially true when it comes to making the Web work for science and technology. In that spirit I want to describe a new kind of Web Portal, one which has yet to be built. It is called the X-Portal.
An X-Portal provides comprehensive coverage for a specific science or technology community, where X refers to that community. In other words, an X-Portal for biofuels is a comprehensive biofuels portal. X = Neutron Science gives a comprehensive neutron science portal, and so on. There can be as many X-Portals as there are communities, but each has a similar design.
The need for X-Portals
The need for X-Portals is based on the fact that today's search engines and portals typically provide less than 5% coverage of any given science community. Today's Web portals and search engines, while revolutionary, are technologically immature and far from comprehensive. As a result they do relatively little to overcome the cognitive barrier of findability. One can usually find something relevant, but it is seldom the best thing out there. With 5% coverage the odds are 19 to 1 against finding the best accessible content. Moreover, if the coverage extends to a large number of other communities, as with Google, even that 5% may be swamped by hits on other communities.
There are two principal reasons for these deficiencies. First of all today's portals try to be too broad, so they wind up being shallow. This means they only capture a small fragment of any given technical community. Second, because they are so broad they cannot make use of the emerging technologies of federation, semantic analysis, mapping and visualization. These new technologies require a certain amount of analytical effort that is specific to each community. When the content is too broad these technologies are prohibitively difficult to apply.