Archive for December, 2005

Tagging – Sleeper Web 2.0 Hit for the Enterprise?

There is a lot of hype around Web 2.0 these days (here is a great summary), and it’s a difficult thing to get your arms around. Some analyst firms aren’t ready to tackle the topic (I hope Burton changes their mind sooner rather than later), and they are perhaps following the leads of enterprises that haven’t started exploiting it within. From a technology perspective, AJAX is a natural first play for enterprises wading into Web 2.0. But I believe that tagging could be the sleeper hit that enterprises should wake up to.

I have great respect for information architecture as a discipline and have worked and currently work with great IAs. But however skilled your IAs are, you will never please everyone. There are many different learning styles and conceptual approaches for content organization, and there is a great case to be made for users building their own organization for content, even if they don’t “own” or manage it.

The best examples currently for tagging which many people are familiar with are del.icio.us and flickr. Another, even better in my opinion, implementation is last.fm (John, you rock for pointing me at this one!). Last.fm uses a fantastic AJAX implementation for tagging, so you don’t even need to leave the content you are viewing to tag – very cool.

The greatest themes for Web 2.0 are participation and transparency, and all of these sites do that well. As you tag, you can see your own tags as well as what others are tagging the same thing. When you browse your tags, you can see what content others have tagged with those same tags. And finally, you can make your tags public so that others can see what you are doing.

Portals and content aggregation have been a big push in enterprises, but when there was content bloat the best initial answer was search engines – buy the best that you can afford. But turning your users into habitual search junkies isn’t doing them any favors. Another thought is that you should never require users to find something twice your way – tagging gets you around that. They get to find it your way the first time, but then they tag it and find it their way next time.

I think tagging is the next Good Thing to come along in the world of content organization and it’s time for it to pick up momentum within the enterprise.

Portal Oriented Architectures (POA)

Burton Group recently published a report to clients (see Note below) on portal multiplicity. They make the case that portals are a mature platform that will dissipate as a distinct market in the not too distant future… I say bring it on!

It was and is vogue for large enterprises to invest in portal technology, whether there was a clear vision for implementation or not. Portal Oriented Architectures (POA – attribution to James McGovern for the *OA naming format!) have still not been clearly defined for large enterprises, who are left to fend for themselves and build their own reference architecture based on false starts. The best attempts from vendors still seem to be very infrastructure and SOA oriented. Important as that may be, the portal metaphor is ultimately a user experience paradigm, and any successful implementation must be lead by solid audience analysis and user-centered design. The bright folks at UIE captured the idea, but note that they didn’t even use the word portal when they described it.

Vendors are still pitching portal platforms as the cure-all for the presentation layer, when they are too often a placebo. Portals have their place in the EA, to be sure, but they can be a dangerous cancer when applied to every problem. The fact is that portal technology is an aggregation, personalization, and customization platform – they excel when those are the core UI problems to be addressed. They become bloated Golden Hammers when that is not the core problem.

Note: If you work for a large enterprise (any size, really) and are not yet a Burton Group client – become one. Among other things, Burton is one of the few respectable analyst firms that is giving air time to open source initiatives, and seems very comfortable admitting the fact that they play a key role in the enterprise architecture, even for large enterprises (which many still seem to deny).


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