A web portal is most often one specially designed web site that brings information together from diverse sources in a uniform way. Usually, each information source gets its dedicated area on the page for displaying information (a portlet); often, the user can configure which ones to display. Variants of portals include mashups and intranet "dashboards" for executives and managers. The extent to which content is displayed in a "uniform way" may depend on the intended user and the intended purpose, as well as the diversity of the content. Very often design emphasis is on a certain "metaphor" for configuring and customizing the presentation of the content and the chosen implementation framework and/or code libraries. In addition, the role of the user in an organization may determine which content can be added to the portal or deleted from the portal configuration.
A portal may use a search engine API to permit users to search intranet content as opposed to extranet content by restricting which domains may be searched. Apart from this common search engines feature, web portals may offer other services such as e-mail, news, stock quotes, information from databases and even entertainment content. Portals provide a way for enterprises and organizations to provide a consistent look and feel with access control and procedures for multiple applications and databases, which otherwise would have been different web entities at various URLs. The features available may be restricted by whether access is by an authorized and authenticated user (employee,member) or an anonymous site visitor.
Examples of early public web portals were AOL, Excite, Netvibes, iGoogle, MSN, Naver, Lycos, Indiatimes, Rediff, and Yahoo!. See for example, the "My Yahoo!" feature of Yahoo! which may have inspired such features as the later Google "iGoogle" (discontinued as of November 1, 2013.) The configurable side-panels of, for example, the modern Opera browser and the option of "Speed Dial" pages by most browsers continue to reflect the earlier "portal" metaphor.