Content 2.0 Converges

Wat a difference a year makes. Since my column in last year’s EC100 issue, content applications of all types have been showing their 2.0 stripes, increasingly blurring the boundaries between web and print, and where their content resides. As “Web 2.0” has become part of our vocabulary, Content 2.0 parallels are blurring web-based and non-web-based content. Adobe’s portable document format (PDF), initially a static electronic document format, now delivers a rich online experience, and Adobe Air is moving rich web content back to the offline desktop. As with its Web 2.0 counterpart, Content 2.0 includes structuring content with adherence to openly developed standards, collaboration, and mashups—all delivered in highly visual ways.

First, let’s consider their structured similarities: Marketing product literature has referred to documents as “unstructured” for some time, but while office content might have seemed (but never was) unstructured, that adjective is patently false today. With Office 2007, StarOffice8, and OpenDocument formats all based on XML, the question isn’t whether content is structured. The question has become: Which structure is better? It is nice to have choices.

Beyond simple office content, XBRL structure is gradually being adopted by the staid financial community. JustSystems, the Japanese company that acquired XMetaL, is now working with IBM to extend the benefits of XBRL documents across the whole financial supply chain. XBRL—long resisted within the U.S. financial community—will deliver many benefits over the web by reducing document creation costs as it adds important financial transparency to public company reports. JustSystems’ Angie Hirata, director of XMetaL marketing, says that JustSystems’ Content Lifecycle platform yields more than 50% cost savings with its topic-oriented authoring. So you get to have both rich structure and savings, heretofore an either/or choice.

Then there’s collaboration. Who would have thought that documents, whether PDF files or office documents, could encourage collaborative social interactions beyond everyone reading and discussing the latest Harry Potter novel? Examples of collaborative documents abound, starting with the ever-evolving Acrobat suite. Late last year Adobe released Acrobat 8 and included Connect, an upgrade from the former Macromedia Breeze. This web service collaborative product is now well-integrated with what you might have been forgiven to think of as static PDF files.

Another example is StarOffice’s latest extension for blogging, WebLog Publisher. This $10 tool makes blogging as easy as word processing. Are you off the grid? Just edit your post in the context of a familiar word processor until you’re back online, then upload your posts or download and edit existing ones. I have been using the StarOffice blog extension for months now, and the experience even makes me wonder where the boundary between online and offline content is really located.

Google’s work with documents and spreadsheets further blurs the 2.0 boundaries. Google’s docs and spreadsheets provide the 20% of features that 80% or more people actually use, and web-based collaboration makes them extraordinarily powerful. Need to check and discuss your kid’s homework when you’re away? Simply use Google Apps. And Google’s Apps Premier, announced this year, delivers enterprise-quality online suites at the absurdly low price of $50 per person a year. Want off-grid versions of your documents? Just export your Google docs to Microsoft, Adobe, or ISO-standard OpenDocument formats. Google Gears is also developing strategic technologies to move the web offline.

JustSystems’ Angie Hirata also says that content is growing annually at about 50%, with structured publishing costs sometimes dropping 50–100%. Even with a normal adoption lag for 2.0 technologies, that’s a huge emerging structured content opportunity. We’ll likely continue to see a blurring of the division between online and offline content and increasingly structured content, which is less costly and easier to produce.

The web is learning to work offline. Documents, mostly offline, are learning to go online. We need alternatives between massive whole-publication print or PDFs for offline viewing and online delivery that doesn’t work well on small portable devices with slow or intermittent web connections. There’s got to be a more sustainable solution than newspaper carriers delivering 15 pounds of newsprint each week wrapped in petroleum-based plastic bags, with each customer tossing out three-quarters of each issue upon receipt. One thing is sure: The elements are in place for surprising new content management models.

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Four and a half years of columns, on top of a couple of years prior studying content management systems at CMS Review, taught me a lot about how information is created, managed, and published today, especially on the web.