Open Source Projects Too Hard to Use? How About Mashed-Up Web 2.0 Apps?

You know the old adage about starting a successful enterprise: find a need and fill it. There’s a need to be filled that many people recognize…but it’s currently too hard for the needy to figure out how fill it themselves, and no one else is filling it.

I’m speaking about the need entrepreneurs, small businesspeople, non-profit organizations and others have for a Web asset that supports their business or organizational requirements. No…I’m not talking about yet another brochureware web site or simple ecommerce, but something that meets the demands, higher expectations and increasingly global reach of an accelerating participatory culture.

In an age of internet ubiquity and a flat world, people all over the globe are accessing, participating, creating, clustering with others, learning, raising their awareness, and increasingly demand a level of interaction that is making a Web asset a business and organizational imperative. Just look at the success of MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo’s offerings, all the Web 2.0 offerings and more to get a sense of what’s happening.

Over the last six months, I’ve been working with multiple different groups, entrepreneurs, disrupted status quo companies, all of whom have a vague sense that the world is changing beneath their feet…but are unsure what’s going on and how to address it. These folks have a knowing that they need:

  • A multi-author, workflow-enabled, content management system
  • A blog to engage with their constituents, be transparent and open themselves
  • Forums to engage, support and augment interactions with their customers and learn from online discussions
  • Ecommerce that facilitates digital downloading of their intellectual capital instead of just the buying and shipping of atoms in boxes
  • Collaboration for project/task management, shared calendar, and more.

But wait!” you say. “There are open source and Web 2.0 offerings that meet those needs.” Yeah…but stop into any office building and ask a small, ten person firm what they have for a Web asset and I’ll bet you find their internet presence woefully inadequate.

While the software for these needs are numerous in the open source community, none of them are click-n-configure but rather they’re hire-the-development-guys, spend some dough, wait three months and go.

ALL of the projects look and feel differently, have disparate administration user interfaces and paradigms, and getting them working together — let alone being presented so they appear to be one, common Web site — is a pretty formidable task. I know that buying all of this software even three years ago would’ve been in the multiple $100k range plus services, but that’s why few of the needy could become involved in delivering a Web asset with anything but brochureware capability.

Web 2.0 applications, while amazing and exciting, are more-or-less hosted versions of application functionality that hold the promise — but aren’t even close to — a whole Web asset solution for people and firms to accelerate their value in an internet-centric way. As a buddy of mine said about Web 2.0 apps somehow mashing up and coming together into a cohesive asset, “Ya got your calendar over there (e.g., 30boxes);  your collaboration over here (e.g., Foldera); a word processor in the next County (e.g., Writely); your forum in the closet (e.g., CollectiveX); and your Web site sitting right here! (e.g., SiteKreator). There’s no way any of this stuff will work together in any sort of cohesive way!”

So we got a ways to go. When I look at Salesforce.com or freeCRM, I realize how much power is in the hands of non-technical mortals who can simply configure and go. THAT is what it’s going to take to accelerate mapping open source and Web 2.0 offerings to the needs in the market.

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1 Comment

  1. milkfilk on October 2, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Fine, I’ll admit that Salesforce is attractive for it’s click and go functionality at $65/month per user but at some point that doesn’t scale. In addition, I wonder what the trade off is.

    Apps like RSS readers and even graphically accelerated forum aggregators decentralize the webapp world. The browser is not perfect, even with DHTML keyboard shortcuts and AJAX. We run into new design problems.

    Take Magnolia CMS. It’s all ajaxy and sexy. But when the server crashes, my browser doesn’t realize it right away because the DOM model is in memory. I get all kinds of weird behavior (dialogs, strange views) because … drum roll … it’s ajaxy and sexy. What would have been a 404 or “cannot find server” becomes a strange view that only I know is not quite right because it’s failing in the background while my browser happily plays with in-memory data.

    No, this is yet another explosion-implosion pattern. We’ll go to dumb web terminals only to come crawling back to decentralized PCs again, longing for localized power, sick of browser errors and network hiccups. Then we’ll put it all in one place again when we want simplicity. It’s the IT version of the universe’s big-bang, big-crunch.



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