Connected content

IT may seem like a notion that died a rightful death at the end of the dot-com era, but the idea that the Internet can serve as a community-guided knowledge and collaboration base is finally showing its true potential.

The emergence of the so-called Web 2.0 movement – and its championed technologies of blogs, wikis, social networking, AJAX, RSS and scores of others – is, arguably, starting to transform the Internet from a read-only environment to a collaborative experience, where users can both read from and write to a website, interacting with others and sharing information.

Web 2.0’s evangelists maintain the web should no longer used solely as a delivery vehicle for content; operating a website should also be about trusting and encouraging users to increase the value of a group’s underlying information by contributing to it.

Notwithstanding the hype and misunderstanding around Web 2.0, the early manifestations of products that enable content creation and sharing are already causing some soul searching at some technology companies. Vendors of enterprise content management (ECM) systems, in particular, are having to ask themselves if Web 2.0 represents a threat or an opportunity to their traditional way of handling documents, records, web content and related collaboration.

One thing is for sure: there is overlap. “ECM manages the lifecycle of content objects that eventually becomes valuable to you as a company,” says Larry Warnock, chief strategy officer at content management vendor, Vignette. “This is the next generation of web presence, although there’s still a danger of overhyping Web 2.0.” Why should ECM not be able to view a wiki as a complementary service that “represents the collective knowledge of all users who contribute to it,” he adds.

That highlights the central tenant behind the Web 2.0 movement: harnessing collective intelligence. By allowing their users to originate, organise and better categorise content, businesses can directly benefit.

With that in mind, the principles behind wikis, such as the widely-used online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, are being applied in organisational settings with appropriate security and lifecycle controls – features that are provided on most content management systems today to handle user access and content manipulation.

“People don’t want to do content management. They want the content management to happen for them.”

Larry Warnock, chief strategy officer, Vignette.

Such adoption is driven by practicalities. Wikis, for instance, can help alleviate one of the common complaints of traditional web content management systems: the so-called webmaster bottleneck. Content can be easily added, updated or deleted with minimal web publishing skills – and without overwhelming webmasters who traditionally published to websites.

And that ease of use is what makes wikis and other Web 2.0 content and collaboration tools so attractive. “People don’t want to do content management. They want the content management to happen for them,” says Vignette’s Warnock. This is next generation is all about “taking new classes of content and delivering it to all new classes of devices,” he says.

Does that put the controlled world of traditional content and collaboration management on a collision course with the open communication and shared content of Web 2.0 applications?

Not yet, at least, say analysts. Most early adopters in business are so far only experimenting or making ‘point’ use of Web 2.0 technologies: Rallypoint, Central Desktop and Gabbr for collaboration, JotSpot and several others for wikis; Basecamp and Side Job Track for project management; LinkedIn and Plaxo for establishing networks of peers; Kiko and CalendarHub for calendaring; Findory for searching for relevant blog information.

These tools may not yet constitute an entire enterprise content management environment. But content management vendors must be careful to ensure that their products co-exist and integrate with services such as these. Otherwise, they may eventually find themselves stuck in Web 1.0.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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