With all the hype that Web 2.0 has gotten, many companies are now looking at their existing Web CMS and wondering whether it meets the new paradigm’s needs or merely traps them in an earlier age of the Web, thereby missing new business opportunities and making them appear dated.Companies currently looking to acquire a new CMS want their new software to be “Web 2.0 enabled.” But what does this mean in real terms? This article is the first in a three-part series that addresses content management technologies in the context of a Web 2.0 world. This first article establishes our foundation and a working definition of Web 2.0. The next in the series digs deeper into what makes a “Web 2.0 compliant” content management system. The final article will discuss some of the challenges facing vendors and the areas where customers of content management technologies should pay the most attention.

What is Web 2.0?

Despite the common usage of the term and even some consensus on it’s meaning, this question still frequently arises. Tim O'Reilly popularized Web 2.0 as an expression when in September of 2005 he wrote a fairly coherent definition. The principals distilled by O’Reilly took us a long way toward drawing much-needed lines around the Web 2.0 concept. However, out in the wild, Web 2.0 is often used more like a New and Improved sticker you might find on a bottle of detergent. Sites with large, bold sans-serif fonts, large form field boxes, "Beta" baked into the logo, and slick DHTML interfaces all look worthy of a Web 2.0 label, but often this is little more than updated branding. If your current CMS can't handle this, it doesn't belong on any version of the web. In this article we are pulling back in the direction of O’Reilly’s more purist set of Web 2.0 principles, then blending in a few lessons learned since.

Principles of Web 2.0

The following 6 principles are our working guidelines for what it means to think and be Web 2.0.
  1. Be Informal; Embrace the Bottom-up Model.
    The popular ClueTrain Manifesto states that "markets are conversations." Your audience doesn't want to be talked at with marketing gloss. They want an honest dialog with real people behind the firewall and with other community members who understand and are active in the site or service context.

    If the Web 2.0 world could be characterized one way, we would call it a hairy, grammatically incorrect, often irreverent and sometimes downright offensive conversation.

    Loosen the tie and drop the canned answers. The Web 2.0 world embraces organizations, content and services that are candid and accessible.
  2. Data is the Application.
    Owning unique content is more valuable than owning the software. Your content is even more valuable if you can open it up for broad and creative use.

    O’Reilly said “Data is the New Intel Inside”, others have said “SQL is the new HTML”. Boil this down and it means people come for the value living inside your data, and they want to leverage it in ways you may never have imagined.

    Don’t let the limitations of your own imagination constrain the value of your content. Open the front door and give ‘em all the side doors they want.
  3. Participation is Key.
    O’Reilly described this as harnessing the collective intelligence. Get your community of users to participate. This will create the true value of your service or content and keep that value vibrant and dynamic.

    Keep in mind that the people that become participants are typically the types who act on a larger stage. They are frequently more avid consumers, better employees and perhaps also the squeaky wheels that affect the opinions of others.

    Let interactions be flexible. Trust the crowd. Embrace participants. Give them the tools to share what they know.
  4. The Interface Must be Rich, Yet Simple.
    When having what we might describe as a Web 2.0 Experience, you no longer have the sensation of clicking from one page to another so much as you have the feeling of being on what Immediacy’s John Goode called an “ergonomic journey.”

    Now, we love John’s description, but that may be setting the bar a little high. The bottom line is that the browser-based experience has evolved. You can call this AJAX infiltration or point to the maturation of JavaScript libraries, but regardless of the root, the fact is that end users now expect a significantly more sophisticated client interface.

    To be considered a modern web UI, the interface must be functionally rich, response times must be fast and a careful balance must be struck between features and simplicity.
  5. Content is Objects, Not Pages.
    Today’s web content is less about layout and more about structured entities that support a broad range of use cases and are flexible enough to be adapted, packaged and mashed in new ways.

    The latest shift may be at least partially characterized as a transition from a Web 1.0 world of “pages” to a Web 2.0 world of content objects and micro content requests. To put yet another twist on a well-worn term, we can call this AJAX-ified content.

    This change does not mean the page concept is dead. It does however mean that editors, content managers and CMS vendors must be thinking and acting differently.

    Your CMS vendor needs to understand that your content managers will need to do more than just edit pages, and accordingly provide a data model, the tools and the interface to support management and publishing of rich content objects.
  6. The Web is a Multi-device, Evolving Platform.
    True Web 2.0 services deliver digital stuff to multiple devices or applications. Web content has gone beyond the browser.

    The iPod or iPhone, combined with iTunes, is a real example of this. In combination this service is multimedia, multi-device and multi-purpose. Apple has truly embraced Web 2.0 principals and as a result their iTunes service is emerging as a flexible platform with new uses and purposes every day.

    The ideal is to make your service interfaces standard, flexible, lightweight and multi-device friendly. Don’t think in terms of delivering discreet software. A Web 2.0 application is a hub.

Conclusion

All this does not mean that the Web you only just started to get comfortable with is dead. Many traditional concepts such as online branding, attractive interfaces, search engine optimization and website usability are still valid and important. Web 2.0 principals simply take the next step forward, augmenting traditional web content with more dynamic and honest conversations, opening content production to new audiences, introducing new models of participation and supporting new types of client devices and applications. We will continue this discussion next week when we discuss in more detail the principals of Web 2.0 Content Management and the key functionalities and product architectures to look for when considering a new content management system purchase. [Editor's Note (23-April-2007): Read part two of the series here.]

About the Authors

Seth Gottlieb is the founder and principal of Content Here, a provider of vendor neutral consulting and advisory services around content technologies. With 14 years of experience in software and professional services, Seth has helped companies both large and small to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their content management and publishing processes. An authority in the field of open source content technologies, Seth has presented at national conferences including the Gilbane Conferences on Content Management Technologies and KM World and Intranets, and his reports and other publications have received critical acclaim. Seth was on the 2005-2006 Board of Directors for CM Professionals. Brice Dunwoodie is the publisher of CMSWire.com and co-founder and President of Cylogy, Inc. Cylogy is a web applications and content management consultancy with offices in San Francisco, Paris, and Amsterdam. During more than 12 years of professional consulting Brice has helped organizations such as Oracle, IBM, Gawker Media, the United Nations, and France Telecom achieve business objectives through the intelligent use of Web technologies. Brice is a founding member of CM Professionals.