Thursday, January 31, 2008

Web 2.0 - Are you Isolated?

by Bob Rose

There is considerable variation in understanding what the phrase Web 2.0 really means. Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media refers to Web 2.0 as a new "business revolution" caused by moving to the Internet as a platform and an attempt to "understand the rules of success on the new platform". In general it is widely believed that Web 2.0 refers to "second generation" of Web based communities, social networking sites, wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, collaborative categorization of content and folksonomies. This is further emphasized by the evolving concept of full interactivity between users and providers. A user on a Web 2.0 platform can upload content in addition to downloading it from the existing Websites.

Web 2.0 could stands for any or all of the following

  • Breaking the barriers isolating content and functionality on current Websites.
  • Changing the manner in which Web content is generated and distributed based on open communication, decentralizing content creation and use through social networking phenomena
  • Superior categorization and organization of content through collaborative action
  • Separating functionality and Web technology

With all the hype surrounding Web 2.0, it is not surprising at all to see organizations of all sizes scrambling to ensure an interactive customer experience by deploying an array of technologies and concepts such as Wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and podcasts. The basic objective of a Web 2.0 Website is to engage effectively with users - making it imperative to measure the success of their online initiatives by tracking and analyzing different sources of user content such as feedback, comments, votes, subscriptions, leads and even the number of downloads.

What makes Web 2.0 tick?

A whole new set of technologies have come together in creating this new "business" platform. These technologies range from a host of server side software components, content syndication tools, messaging protocols, extension to browsers and client side applications. Broadly these could include:

  • Rich Internet application usually Ajax-based
  • CSS, Valid HTML and use of micro-formats
  • Syndication and aggregation of data with RSS
  • Meaningful and relevant URLs
  • Liberal use of folksonomies (tags, tagclouds, freely chosen keywords)
  • Using wiki software on the Website
  • Weblog publishing, mashups
  • Technologies like SOAP, Web services etc.
  • User-friendly Website content-management systems (WCMS).
  • Optimized search engine capability for frequently-used keywords

Adapting to Web 2.0

While these technologies have given organizations a significant opportunity to build close relationships with their customers, they have also presented new challenges. Web 2.0 sites demand a higher level of interaction where content can be served in multiple formats, and create, edit or retire content as they desire. The shift is essentially from a static form of serving Web pages one way to one of breaking down silos where the focus is more on participation, collaboration and interaction. What does this paradigm shift mean for your Website? For one, when you consider that managing and updating content on a Website is a challenge task in itself, the additional requirements of usability, design and information architecture are enough to push things over the edge. Add to this the complexity of multiple file formats, delivery methods and user generated content. Other significant challenges lurking round the corner are:

  • Creation of unstructured and ad-hoc content can soon become unmanageable
  • Managing and moderating information posted by user community and readers
  • Presenting content in different forms such as podcast, blogs or Wikis.
The second generation Web is a big shift in both technology but also in customer's expectation. The users look for a rich user interface, seamless participation, community based services, content categorization and trust - all built on a decentralized infrastructure. At it's core a Web content management system (CMS) must provide the ability to edit contents through a user-friendly and technology-neutral interface. Also consider that when a community actively participates in adding and editing content on your Websites, security will quickly become a prime concern. User-friendly interfaces along with a robust content monitoring system, and security are basic requirements of any WCM in a Web 2.0 environment.

The Web 2.0 users demand an interface that is functionally rich, easy to use, and helps in publishing content quickly. You do not want your users that are well tuned to using sites such as Flickr or Blogger, getting frustrated about the complexities of interacting and posting content to your company's blog. Further, different forms of metadata such as 'rating' or 'tagging' by voters introduce new layers of intricacy in managing content. Additional challenges in content management arise due to multiple types of digital devices. Organizations, which stick to manual process for updating of content, or deploy a CMS that tightly binds content to the structure, are only reinforcing the silos that are fast becoming obsolete.

Syndicating content in standard Web feeds such as RSS or Atom is not a trivial task. Often non-technical subject matter experts struggle to update or publish news feeds themselves.

How can a Website CMS help?

Website content management systems
help businesses maintain consistency across different digital assets on their Website so that branding and design are controlled to the level desired (style sheets, templates, etc.), regardless of who is responsible for the actual content. As a result, visitors have a consistent and professional experience on a Website managed through a content management system. A CMS geared for Web 2.0 allows publishing of multiple forms of content all fed from a single source. It enables creation and dissemination of content to a wide range of audience in multiple mediums a breeze. Some examples are:

: Most blogs posted by companies lack workflow or approvals process for content that is published or comments that are posted. These organizations can use a CMS to exercise greater control over their corporate blogs by employing workflow, approvals and archiving both postings and comments. A content management system can play an important role in an organization's Web 2.0 strategy, as it ensures that content passes through appropriate quality gates before being published. RSS feeds: A CMS can be setup for automatically publishing content as RSS feeds. What's more, visitors to a company's site can personalize their RSS feeds by defining a keyword or phrase. When new content related to the keyword or phrase appears on the Website, personalized content is automatically pushed to the recipient.

: A versatile CMS can facilitate publishing of digital assets such as audio and video files, and simplify the process by which a customer publishes the XML associated with the Podcast RSS feed. As a result, users can easily subscribe to the podcast. Most importantly, all versions are maintained enabling subscribers to have a complete archive of all podcasts that were issued.

Social Networking
: Static content is out - and user generated content is in. Inbound content plays a significant role in gauging responses of user community. It is unavoidable for organizations to employ a mechanism to pull data and its categorization posted by users. The CMS enables users to directly post data with folksonomy, tag clouds, ratings and comments. Analysis of this content provides organizations useful metrics to measure the success of their online initiatives. The beauty of a Website CMS is that it gives a wide range of flexibility without losing control. For instance, completely configurable workflows enable organizations to assign tasks to any person, and escalate in case defined thresholds are crossed. For example, e-mail alerts can be sent to content owners of specific sections on a Website, when these sections don't get updated after a specific time period. Imagine doing this manually in a dynamic environment.

How will this affect my Budget?

A full Website CMS based on SaaS delivers all functionality to manage a Web 2.0 enables properties without making a dent in your budget. By accessing 'software' as a service', you are spared the high initial cost of buying a license. Moreover, as the software is hosted, there is no additional hardware to buy and no software to configure and install. You pay a fixed monthly or quarterly subscription fee and leave the task of managing, maintaining and up gradation to the service provider.

Organizations also save as they do not have to engage a developer to tweaks the HTML code or template, or a Webmaster to take care of hosting. By using a SaaS model, organizations can also cut down on their risk, and choose different functionalities as they grow or unplug if they want. Further, as billing is on a monthly or quarterly basis, the cost is spread across the lifetime of a product's usage and the risk of product implementation and adoption are absorbed by the vendor and not the customer.

The benefits continue even when you compare the SaaS model to other CMS models like home grown solutions, and open source applications. Both the latter solutions need considerable additional resources to handle support and maintenance. This is because the hard part of a CMS starts only after the system goes live. It needs a dedicated team for managing hardware, software and the network. In addition you will need an expert who is always available 24/7 to modify a template, change a workflow, or trouble-shoot an end-user problem. Every time you need to change a layout, make a small change to your template or add a new section, you need a developer guiding you.

Not surprising, it is estimated that close to 91% of all support requests for a CMS are unrelated to software, but still require dedicated software personnel to solve content related issues. The contracted support handles only 9% of your needs.

Web 2.0 Success = Content + Interaction

Content is the key to the success in achieving your business goals in a Web 2.0 world. Content
and interactivity will drive people to your site, and will instill valuable opinion about your company in your customers or prospects. However, unless the diverse parts of information landscape do not connect and talk to each other, the ROI on online initiatives will remain unclear. With a Website CMS, you can easily synchronize these disparate content components and catalyze the equation by effectively engaging your customers or prospects.

About the Author

This article is contributed by Rob Rose - Vice President of Crownpeak. Content is the key to the success in achieving your business goals in a Web 2.0 world. With a Website content management system (CMS), you can easily synchronize content components and catalyze the quation by effectively engaging your customers or prospects.