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What is Web 2.0 CM (Part 2)

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Brice Dunwoodie avatar
Regardless of whether you like or are revolted by the term Web 2.0, most people can at leastagree that the Web is a continually evolving place and that significant changes in both the underlying technologies and in the human interaction patterns have taken place over the pastfew years.In the first article in this series we discussed in practical terms our take on meaning of Web 2.0 as it relates to content technologies. In this article, we describe the three key constituencies of Web 2.0 Content Management Systems and the functionalities needed to serve them well.

Three Groups that Matter Most

To assess your web publishing capabilities, you must consider three uniqueconstituencies:

  1. Your internal content producers and managers
  2. Your human audience -- those people who use, consume and potentially enhance your content
  3. Your machine or software audience -- those devices or applications that will consume machine readable forms of your content

Group 1: Content Producers & Managers

Editorial staff and content managers continue to beresponsible for many of the same tasks and processes. Yet like everyone whouses Web-based tools, their expectations of the tools have changed markedlyover the past few years and their set of operational tool sets have expanded toinclude new devices –- such as mobile browsers and Blackberry phones -- and newclient applications -- such as RSS readers and mash-up aggregation applications.

If a content management system fails to address the newdemands of this audience, frustrations develop, workflow slows, content qualitycan potentially suffer and knowledge can end up locked away in simpler to use,but isolated repositories. Here are a few things to pay attention to:

Focus on Interface & Workflow Simplicity
To quote Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki, "What's thesimplest thing that could possibly work?" You and your team may not want thesimplest thing, but Wards perspective clearly has merit and those who seektools that best manage Web 2.0 services and websites would do well to keep hisideas in the fore.

Just imagine the shock your average 22 year old wouldexperience going from Flickr, Blogger or Twitter to a stodgy run of the mill EnterpriseCMS management console.

Sure, your enterprise software does so much more. But doesthis new generation of business user with simple needs really care orunderstand? What if posting a document on the intranet was as easy as uploadinga photo on Flickr or a video on YouTube?

Part of the problem is the software that has not beensufficiently paired down to optimize simplicity. Equally at fault areassumptions that users will be trained and compelled to use the software tosome greater corporate good. Unlike other enterprise software, you cannotalways force your employees to use software that they do not like. People can avoid using your CMS by resortingto the ultimate unstructured tool: email.

The latest entrants into your workforce are probably settingup Wikis, blogs, and other simple tools on third party sites or on hardwarethey can scrounge up internally.By notresponding to their initiative and their needs of simplicity, you are pushingtheir good intentions underground. You also risk multiplying the number ofisolated content silos in your enterprise, thereby missing an importantopportunity to leverage evolving forms of knowledge management.

Companies like Google and 37signals are revolutionizing thefield by applying consumer-oriented design values to enterprise-orientedsoftware. They have resisted the feature clutter that has become the plague ofenterprise software.They hide thecomplexity rather than boast about it.

Keeping things simple does not mean that the work of thecontent contributor is easy.It takestime to create content that is good both as an informational resource and as areusable content asset.Extra effort bythe content contributor will make the content more valuable and usable to yourhuman audience and systems that try to re-use it.Still, tens of metadata attributes and manytier taxonomies will discourage the content contributor from making thiseffort.Sites such as Flickr and del.icio.us have realized great success by relying oncommunity based tagging and fast auto-suggest features. These are importantlessons your CMS vendor should be attuned to and learning from.

Deliver Immediacy
Traditionally, security and access control in companiestends to follow the policy of "guilty until proven innocent."User privileges are kept to an absoluteminimum with the expectation that if a user really needs to perform a functionthey will follow protocol and apply for permission and resume their task whenpermission is granted.

Complex workflow models that put several approval layersbetween a contributor and publishing do the same thing.This does not jibe well with user expectationof immediacy. Users like to be able to perform an action and see a result. Anydelay discourages participation.

Look for a content management platform that providesflexibility in the workflows and leans toward lighter weight processes and quickpublishing operations. If a task can be completed in one sitting, it is farmore likely to get done and the tool that allows for this will be much morerewarding for your team to work with.

Encourage Trust
Where possible, look for products that support "trust butverify" policies. Ask yourself what is worse: inaccurate or undesirable contenton display for a short time, or preventing a user from posting somethinguseful.

Heavily regulated industries may not have this option.But if you can, allow a user to do more whilemonitoring what they do. This, of course, requires you to have functionality toreport on what changes have been made and also have the staff to run thereports and review the results.In thecommand-control world, under staffing the editorial role leads to bottlenecksand stagnation, in this new world, it leads to chaos.

Provide a Rich Experience
While the browser has become the preferred method ofdelivering a UI, the Web 1.0 page-submit model really breaks down for complextasks that require lookups and building references between assets.

Rich Internet Applications (RIA), built in Flash or leveragingAJAX technologies, solve this problem by supporting interactivity with the serverbetween page refreshes. Many CMS vendors are doing a good job of modernizingtheir administrative interfaces. But don't take this for granted. Related toSimplicity and Immediacy, a tool interface that is usable and rich is going toboth increase the probability of content getting published and be more rewardingfor your team to use.

With that said, your evaluation should not be limited towhat you see in the browser. Users want to both stay tuned to workflows andcontribute content using other interfaces and devices such as email. Identifythe key toolset your team will use and make sure your CMS vendor is headed inthe same direction.

Group 2: The Participating Public

The public, previously known as "consumers," have becomeparticipants. A modern Web CMS must acknowledge this and demonstrate theability to both integrate the public as participants and deliver the tools Web2.0-savvy visitors expect. Here are a few things to look for:

Modern Organizational Tooling
When your website was just a static brochure, you had fulleditorial control over what your users saw -- just like the paper brochuresstacked on your shelves.You made a lotof assumptions about what your users would be looking for and where they wouldthink to look.

Of course, many of these assumptions were horribly wrongbecause as an employee, you had a very different perspective of your companyand its products and services and your audience didn't speak your corporatejargon.The result was often aninformation architecture that was impenetrable to the people you wanted towelcome.

Faceted taxonomies or labeling systems allow you to both"hedge your bets" by allowing multiple paths to the same content and provide aricher Web experience by creating dynamic views of content based on what theuser is looking for.Better metadatamake search (internal and external) a more powerful tool to find content.

Content management systems with weak taxonomy support orones that force rigid, one dimensional hierarchical organization are limiting.Watch out for systems that prevent an asset from appearing in two places on thesite. More innovative WCM products support "placeless" assets with a richtagging system and dynamic, query based navigation.

A key theme here is flexibility. Look for systems that do not lock you into top-down information design decisions.

Social Bookmarking
There is a powerful trend of social bookmarking or tagging sites such as Del.icio.us, Stumbled Upon, Digg and Reddit. These services allow users to identify useful assets and categorize them in a way that the external world may have a better chance of understanding.

Sites like Toy Instructionsthat allow users to create their own resources with links to officialdocumentation are also becoming popular.Of course, if you went overboard with enriching your experience withAJAX and Flash and didn't pay attention to maintaining good URLs, you have rendered these servicespowerless.

Community Generated Content Support
There are two primary forms of user generated content:primary content and content metadata. Depending on your goals, your CMS shouldsupport one or both of these.

If you plan to allow your audience to publish primarycontent assets such as articles or blog posts, among other things your CMSneeds to have a flexible content data model and the ability to support publicparticipation in the publishing workflow.

The many forms of metadata, including "voting" or "rating"systems, comments and tagging, help users promote and associate content thatthey have found to be valuable and make these assets more findable to otherusers with similar needs.

This functionality will also provide valuable information onhow to communicate to your audience and what content needs to be improved. Thetechnology itself is simple. The challenge is maintaining the commitment to usethe information.

Maybe your visitor has found the most relevant content thatyou have but know that it is inaccurate or incomplete.Some sites are allowing users to annotate,comment on, or even edit content that they find.It is up to you to determine your thresholdfor trust (e.g., must she be a validated customer?Does he have to register with a valid emailaddress?), and you need to institute practices and tools to monitor,acknowledge, verify and incorporate the feedback.For example, if the comment is a validcorrection, it needs to be incorporated in the next release of thedocumentation.A frustrated tone may beresponded to with a gracious response and an offer to help.

If you are trying to build and leverage an externalcommunity you need to give back.First,acknowledge participation, which you can only do by knowing who they are.Allow your users to create profiles.No, I didn't say the word "leads."Sales guys, you can fall back asleep.

Learning Opportunities

In fact, if you treat these people like prospects, you willspoil the relationship.These people areyour allies, not leads to harvest.Thegoal should be to reduce the cost ofsales by having them call you when they are ready to buy.

As trite as it seems, the simple recognition of tying acontribution to a profile -- even an anonymous screen name -- is enough tomotivate some users.Communities wheremembers share their identities (including a picture) tend to be more civil andhelpful.It is more comfortable to besnide from behind a cloak of anonymity.A feeling of ownership also creates an incentive for self-policing.

Second, consider rewarding major contributors with increasedaccess and control.Put them in Betaprograms. Give them moderator privileges on your forum.Share "insider" information (that you don'tmind getting out) with them.They wouldlove to be the first to blog about your news.Give them the opportunity.Theirpassion and excitement will be able to create more buzz than a stale pressrelease.

Integration of Community Generated Content
Many Web CM systems are designed around a multi-tierarchitecture with a strongly secured management tier that pushes content to theread-only presentation tier for display.Some systems have the management tier pre-render (bake) content intoformatted HTML.Others have apresentation tier that dynamically renders (fries) pages with each pagerequest.

These architectures are very desirable for security andscalability.Content presented to thecustomer is essentially read-only so it can be optimized for rapid reads. Thisdesign also reduces risk that hackers are able to modify public content oraccess private content.However, whenyou actually want your external visitors to contribute and actively engage onyour website, where does their content live?There are a couple of options.

For baking style presentation systems, the most popularstrategy is to manage community-generated content separately from the editorialcontent.This can be done on a separate, dynamic section of the site as in user forum area, or in-line using AJAX technologies embedded in statically generated pages.For example, you can layer in a commenting component using AJAX so that comments are entered and displayed on the same page as the article they refer to.There are a number of third party services that you can embed into your website in a similar fashion to Ad services.

Frying style presentation systems can pursue the samestrategy but they have the option of dynamically sending visitor-generatedcontent to the presentation tier.Ofcourse, this is a more complex strategy that introduces issues that were notencountered a one way publishing system.You don't want user generated content to be overwritten every timecontent is published from the management tier. A read-write presentation tierwill require clustering configurations to be more complex.Load balanced instances if the presentationtier will need to synchronize changes made by external users.

Regardless of where user generated content is stored, youneed to manage it.You need to see whathas been added and have the ability to delete inappropriate content. Captcha-basedtechnologies are not enough to prevent comment spam.There are people all over the world withplenty of time on their hands who want to increase their page rank by havinglinks to their site.They are perfectlycapable of typing scrambled captcha text from animage.

When evaluating a Web 2.0 capable CMS, prepare your interactionrequirements carefully and be sure to dig deep here with the vendor. Be wary ofofferings that rely to heavily on third party integration. They probably do nothave the CMS architecture to take you where you're going.

Strong Multi-device Support
The ubiquity of the web-enabled device has finally arrived.Most phones are now web enabled and wireless devices are everywhere.For some executives, the blackberry is the computer.While the browsers on these devices aregetting better, the most usable content is still content that is published forthe small screen.Publishing todifferent formats, such as wireless devices, requires better separation ofcontent and layout and more manageable presentation systems.CMS that tightly bind content structure andlayout will be at a disadvantage.Forexample, an in-site editing model, while intuitive, can mislead the user intothinking that is the only way the content will display.

Group 3: The Machines Who Read

Let your content live beyond the boundaries of your websiteand embrace the creativity of partners and strangers alike. Supporting machinereadable content formats such as RSS allows the community of users to easilyaccess your service and potentially use it to create new value.

Having an open syndication strategy and the technology tosupport it will extend your reach and open up new markets.In some cases, you will be able to directlymonetize this value. But from another perspective it is just simply polite toallow people to consume your information or services in their own way, withtheir own tools and on their own time. Not addressing the growing community ofmachines and client software who read is a costly and serious oversight. Here'swhat to consider:

Syndicating with Web Feeds
Syndicating your content in standard format Web Feeds suchas RSS or Atom is both strategic and well mannered. Feeds allow readers to stayinformed without having to visit your website. They also empower users tocherry pick specific categories of your content or mash it with relatedresources thereby creating new information services.

Whether they know it or not, most Internet users useFeeds.Feeds populate most personalizedportal pages such as My Yahoo!. Sitessuch as Bloglines and Google Reader are becoming theprimary information portals for the digital elite.The rise of Feed-based services such as Technorati, Yahoo! Pipes, Google's AJAX Feed API, FeedBurner, Google Blog Search and countless others make itclear that Web Feeds are strategically important and must be clearly androbustly supported by a modern Web CMS.

Syndication is also something that should be on themarketing department's radar. Syndicating Feeds allows your content to beaggregated into high traffic resources such as My Yahoo!, MSN, Google ContentDirectory, any given company's Intranet and any other of the numerous Feedsearch engines and aggregation points. Your offerings of syndicated contentshould be viewed as a serious, high-impact and quickly evolving distributionchannel.

Finally, new and innovative uses for Web Feeds arepopping-up daily. In some organizations Feeds are being looked to tactically asa simple means for supporting Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or morestrategically as a key component of a services oriented software architecture (SOA).

Providing a Public API
Open API's create the potential of spontaneous partnershipsthrough "mashups." Google Maps spread virally because of a simple API and a low barrier touse them. Ebay has had equal success with theirdeveloper network.

Supporting a good API is where the quality and structure ofthe content come into play.A printedbrochure or a downloadable PDF can disguise poorly structured content.To be of any value to an API, or any re-useopportunity, the metadata better be good and the content better bestructured.

A content model with one big blob of text is not going tocut it.At the very least you shouldhave structured attributes for title and summary.If you want to enable mapping, structuredaddress fields will allow a developer to use a mapping API.Event data should have date and locationinformation.

Microformats
If you capture more structured information, consider usingMicroformats in your rendered Web pages.This evolving standard specifies critical bits of information in basicstandard markup so a machine can scan a page for information.

There are Microformats for contact information, events,reviews, and many other objects.Avisitor using a Microformat aware browser -- such as Firefox with the Tailsextension -- will be pleasantly surprised that you "get it." Of course, in order topublish your content using Microformats, you need structured content types tocapture the appropriate attributes. First things first.

Conclusion

In order to prosper in a Web 2.0 world, you need to thinkabout your content technologies less as necessarily stodgy enterprise softwareand more as fluid and responsive enabling tools.Do not confuse complexity for power. Simplicity empowers users to be proactive andcreative, and maybe even happier while being so.Content needs to be treated as a living and evolving part of your organization, not static assets. Good content facilitates communication and the exchange of information.It should be managed to extend its reach and engage the audience in a dynamic conversation. Treated in this way, content improves over time rather than degrades.Traditional enterprise software promised to standardize and automate people's jobs but the result was confining and stagnating.They tried to save labor by eliminating participation. Web 2.0 optimized technologies take the opposite approach. They try to engage the user bymaking the experience fun and rewarding and ask the user to invest hiscreativity to build a better resource. They give the user freedom with the hope that unanticipated innovation will happen.Web 2.0 users have a broader perspective than the immediate task. They want their contribution to matter and will take the additional steps as long as the interface is usable and they see the benefit. The technology must provide this experience and leverage their contribution.

Up Next

In the next and final article of this series, we will discuss challenges and strategies both for CMS vendors and for the customers that manage CMS products and implementations. If you missed the first article in the series, be sure to give that a scan while you're here: What is Web 2.0 CM (Part 1).

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 content management and web applications consultancy with offices in San Francisco and Paris, France. 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 information technology. Brice is a founding member of CM Professionals.