07 December 2005

Why Web 2.0 Matters

Honorable Reg Alcock, President of the Treasury Board, has been quoted saying that the way we define requirements in the federal government dates back from mainframe times. I agree. All too often, public servants will dutifully attempt to come up with a frozen list of requirements, unwittingly ignoring emerging trends & technologies.

By contrast, does it make sense not to take stock of what is happening "out there", in the world... wide web? That is why I like Dion Hinchcliffe's piece on Five Reasons Why Web 2.0 Matters. One of the key messages in Dion's text is that web 2.0 technologies should not be deployed in isolation. Let's take one example of how organizations could advantageously use three web 2.0 technologies: RSS Feeds, Blogs and News Aggregators.

Taken together, they have the power to change the "Email Push/Pull" paradigm, especially in large organizations. Instead of finding the same email in dozens / hundreds / thousands of email inbox belonging to overloaded users, the users, instead, access a clean list of subject based channels.

Content authors publish their content via a simple email to a weblog, also called "blog", a web intranet page that could be designed to conform to intranet corporate standards, for example, in the Canadian government, to common look and feel standards.

Control of who can publish on a blog is simple. It can be restricted to one or many authors. They can publish their posts simply by sending an email to a pre-determined address. The blog appears automatically as a corporate web page, automatically refreshed with the newest post on top. The blog is further syndicated, that is, its content automatically updates another page in RSS or Atom format (the "feed"). The feed can be subscribed to by end users hence the user list of channels, containing both "mandatory channels" prescribed by the organization and other channels chosen by the user. This is typically done with News Aggregators.

VoilĂ ! Suddenly, a huge proportion of corporate email has been categorized, organized, sorted, preserved. Each blog can have its own record series associated with it, for records management purposes, and can be easily be searched, ideally through a powerful search environment.

These three technologies (RSS Feeds, Blogs and News Aggregators) are simple, they have a proven track record, they are free-and-open-source (FOSS) technologies. Government Departments are now mandated to consider FOSS alternatives as per Treasury Board Secretariat policy on FOSS. Some Governmental Departments have started to use RSS feeds, including the Government of Canada newsroom.