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Jeff Pasternack

One of the amazing elements of the continuing development of the Internet is that it might help sell more dictionaries than any other technical innovation. Prior to 1995, the word "portal" was virtually non-existent. Since then we've been hammered with techie-terms and alphabet soup mixtures such as B2B (business to business transactions) and B2B2C (business to business to consumer transactions). Now we have a new word to contend with: the Vortal.

Just what is a vortal, you might ask? It is a derivative of the word portal, of course. According to the experts at a "portal is a new term, generally synonymous with gateway, for a World Wide Web site that is or proposes to be a major starting site for users when they get connected to the Web or that users tend to visit as an anchor site. There are general portals and specialized or niche portals." Examples would be or, respectively. describes a vortal as an acronym for vertical industry portal and it "is a Web site that provides a gateway or portal to information related to a particular industry, such as health care, insurance, automobiles, or food manufacturing. (A vertical industry is one that is focused on a relatively narrow range of goods and services, whereas a horizontal industry is one that aims to produce a wide range of goods and services. Because most industry tends to specialize, most industry tends to be vertical.)"

Just as portals offer a wide range of access to products and services to all users, vortals do so to a highly targeted group. One such vortal is This site offers attractive content and functionality to anyone with an interest in nursing: news, trends, supplies, download libraries, discussion forums and a host of other offerings. One could find a job, read and contribute to product reviews or post a bid in response to a request for proposal. An even more compelling reason why nursing professionals might use this site over any others catering to nurses has to do with the positioning against the services an association offers: three elements a nursing association might offer that this vortal current does not are accreditation, education and lobbying.

And herein lies an interesting situation. Associations are being threatened with disintermediation and commoditization by vortals. Disintermediation is akin to displacement. Commoditization refers to something that was once specialized becoming commonplace. Whereas before a nurse would rely upon their association for access to specialized information, product discounts and a sense of community, now they can gain these elements over the web.

While vortals might threaten associations, vortals most likely won't replace them. If anything, associations will be galvanized into offering more services, both online and off. What vortals do represent, however, is an opportunity for nursing and other professionals to gain access to information and services from an additional resource. They also provide an online arena to find information specific to their interests. For anyone who has ever searched the net for something specific only to come up empty-handed, vortals are a good starting point and deserve a place in your bookmarks. Most importantly, the good folks at Webster's need to make space between "voracious" and "vortex," because that's the next stop for vortals.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at