Using Captive Portals for a Captive Audience

Captive portals, those special Web pages or splash screens that are displayed before users can access Internet resources, apps or services, are taking design and functionality cues from the Web portals of yore. Captive portals these days can be found as gatekeepers of public Wi-Fi hotspots, Internet cafes, hostels, airport lounges, and business centers at hotels and executive suites. Many of these portals, at best, display a login interface and user policy, and this is clearly a missed opportunity.

If you grew up in the Web 2.0 era, you are likely to remember the popularity of fancy online portals such as Netvibes, iGoogle and Pageflakes. Web portals are still around, but many have been scaled down considerably; sites such as Google are very spartan in appearance, consisting of simply a search bar and one or two links. Yahoo and MSN, on the other hand, have gone retro with content-rich portals that display branding, advertising and value-added services.

In essence, a captive portal should secure a network while providing users with a simple login process. Ideally, however, a captive portal should offer more than just authentication and a stern acceptable use policy.

In Dubai, one of the most Wi-Fi connected cities in the world, captive portals are not only compliant in terms of municipal laws and security; they are also multilingual platforms that offer colorful branding, advertising and monetization options. In other words, the captive portals of the future will look more like the online portals of the Web 2.0 era.

Wi-Fi hotspot and wired broadband providers who wish to take full advantage of captive portals should be aware of their three intrinsic benefits:

1 – Legitimacy is the main security factor provided by captive portals. Most hackers who set up phoney wireless access points do not bother with faking captive portals.

2 – The acceptable use policy can help reduce liability; once a client accepts and connects to the network, his or her ability to prevail in a lawsuit against the Wi-Fi hotspot provider will be limited.

3 – With the right design and customization options, captive portals can be used to do a lot more than simply displaying a company logo. Advertising can be set to display at certain intervals, and some ads can also be coded so that they display before certain pages can be accessed.

If you would like to learn more about how captive portals can be designed to your advantage, please feel free to contact us.