Suite of Web Apps for Normal Humans

These people sure look happy with something they’re doing online, don’t they? Maybe they’re using an easy-to-use, configure and run suite of mission-critical Web applications? They can’t be because none really exist!

I go back-n-forth being excited by the profound ease-of-use and focused Web 2.0 applications and the nearly 140,000 open source projects out there…and being pissed off that all this stuff is STILL too hard for the average human to install, configure or assemble into a whole solution.

Don’t believe me that this is still too hard? Before I explain further, let’s pretend that you’re NOT one of the hundreds of people I’ve interacted with over the years at organizations, small to midsize businesses and even individuals who’ve never installed server-centric applications, don’t know what PHP/Ajax or dotnet is, have never heard of Web 2.0/web services/service oriented architectures, and couldn’t tell you if the internet is a circuit or packet switching network. NOR DO THEY CARE.

These people know that their publications are downtrending. That their user base is scrambling for more content delivery via the Web. Or that some kind of Web asset needs to be delivered so that they can serve the needs of their constituents, customers or prospects.

What these people deeply care about is their organization, their business or value proposition and that the world is racing to and embracing online applications, social connections and demanding to participate with the companies and organizations with whom they’re engaged.

Many leaders know they need world-class Web applications — and a more robust online presence than some cheesey brochureware Web site — to augment or supplant what they deliver as their core products and services. I’ve had dozens and dozens of discussions just this year with leaders who are wrestling with their strategies online and are confused, befuddled and frustrated. Fortunately I’ve successfully guided many of them toward achieving just such an online presence, but the challenges are far too great and the expense for creating, delivering (and then training employees on) is still too high.

Here’s one example: a client of mine needed content management, a blog, a forum, ecommerce and a few other solutions. Cost was an object (thus open source was chosen and a services organization not engaged) and they luckily had several power users that could install open source software and get it up and running. Making each package have the same look-n-feel? Very tough. Training people in the organization to manage and use each separate package and fit it into their work life? Extremely tough since each administration user interface is different and the applications’ organizational models are sometimes confusing to the technically unsophisticated person.

They (and I) realized that the Drupal and Joomla (open source content management systems) have blogging capability and bridges to the other packages to make them work and function seamlessly, but the clients specific requirements dictated WordPress, SMF and OSCommerce be used and those bridges weren’t optimal. Thank God this client had people with propellers on their beanies that were at least capable of somewhat technical installation, configuration and delivery.

I’ll probably get alot of people that tell me how wrong I am and then point out all the solutions and ways that their Web apps can be delivered by normal humans. Unless I’m missing something….I haven’t seen it yet so I doubt you’ll show me something I haven’t yet uncovered.

What have I seen? This may seem bizarre — or you may suspect that I don’t have a life — but I have personally done the following since one of my key strengths is “input” and I take in enormous volumes of information, store and retrieve it when needed (helps me to strategize and gain perspective). So I’ve seen A LOT:

  • Looked at every single Web 2.0 application out there available on the Web and used most of them. Leveraging lists of these applications (there’s a comprehensive list of lists at ReadWriteWeb), I’ve viewed every one of the value propositions off of these lists at least four times this calendar year (pretty sick, heh?).

Lots of great stuff out there, but there are few suites (some, like Zimbra, are internally facing productivity apps online) that allow companies or organizations to create their own Web applications and “publish” them to the Web.

  • Installed, configured and deployed Drupal, Joomla, Xoops, phpBB, WordPress, OSCommerce, Tikiwiki, dotProjekt, Moodle and at least a half dozen other packages. Powerful? Oh yeah. But every single one of them has materially and markedly different administration, delivery models, and steep learning curves. Each alone isn’t too bad…but if you want to combine, say, three or four of them you’ll be bald after tearing your hair out…and forget about teaching the rest of your employees how to run ’em.

When I saw Intel enter the market with a combination footprint called SuiteTwo (partner Spikesource handled technical duties and are showing SuiteTwo SpikeIgnited on their site), it seemed like a positive development and is at least an effort in the right direction (though look at the screenshots and you’ll see the laughingly minimal integration they’ve performed which is “just OK” for an intranet but nothing else).

I know five guys in Minneapolis that could’ve built a better overall user interface in a weekend than is exhibited with this “bundle” delivered by savvy Intel VC’s and the leading open source certification, indemnification and support organization Spikesource.

Civicspace is an on-Drupal built community offering that also has potential and is, frankly, a significantly more solid step forward than what anyone else — including Spikesource — has yet done. Yes it’s an assemblage of different functionality, but at least Drupal is architected so that the value of the open source CMS can be easily extended and thus modules can be added to increase the value of a Civicspace deployment.

So for anything resembling a world-class, customer-facing suite of applications, nothing exists.

Am I hopeful? Absolutely. Demand is going up for just such a series of suites and Adobe, Microsoft, LaszloSystems and others are delivering tools that will allow the creation of rich internet application user interfaces over the top of all these disparate packages.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.