People Powered: Content and Collaboration Combine Forces

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Keep it Simple
Web publishing is no longer about technology and features; it's about hiding the complexity so individuals are in control. However, the "proposed miracle of decentralized Web publishing" has been slow in coming, observes Craig Barberich, group manager, communication, publishing, and training at Macromedia. His company would like to speed this development by introducing a unified platform for content creation and collaboration.

Macromedia has a sharp eye on tools emerging in the blog and wiki space and can see a place for this capability in the scheme of a larger offer. "Wikis will be a component of collaboration tools going forward," Barberich says. "I'm not sure it will be a tool on its own." 

As more collaborative Web publishing gathers steam, the day will arrive when publishing is part of every employee's day job, Barberich says. That will require deep familiarity with the tools to create and share information on the Web, and it's not clear if users will want to wrestle with the multitude of software and services on the market. "Rather than have hundreds of interfaces, it would be helpful if there could be standardization on a tool as a front-end to all this," he says. 

The foundation for an all-in-one approach already exists in products such as the Macromedia Web Publishing System, a Web content management solution that enables businesses to collaborate, manage, and publish to sites within a centrally controlled, standards-based environment. 

Collaboration is also the focus of Macromedia's Contribute 3, a tool that allows everyone in an organization to publish to Web sites and bring them alive with up-to-date information. Its Breeze offer is a Web communication system that lets authors reach their audience with engaging multimedia content. Because Breeze is deployed using Macromedia Flash Player, already installed on most browsers, the content can be consumed on a range of devices. "We believe we can take content creation and distribution a couple of notches higher because we can look beyond the PC to the TV or the mobile phone," Barberich concludes.

Brave New Content 
The flurry of activity and excitement around content creation and collaboration tools as well as social software "is positive proof that people are the killer app," observes Jerry Michalski, a consultant focused on the ways people interact with computing and communications technologies.

"There are many tools and each of them has their flashes of brilliance," Michalski says, referring to the growing number of wiki, blog, and collaboration software and services. "I can see that they might be glued together in all-in-one offers, but that doesn't mean it will happen that way." Even if the industry does develop "all singing and dancing platforms" for content creation and collaboration capabilities, "it will still have to be unbelievably open and flexible." 

In the meantime, Michalski is fascinated by the ways users are interacting with proprietary services from the likes of search engine provider Google and Flickr, a photo-sharing community tool. "They've opened up some of their content for re-use in interesting ways, which has led to an explosion of creative activity on top of Google Maps." 

Take Google Maps and housing listings, and the reaction when Paul Rademacher mashed together Google Maps and Craig's List Web services to create a map-based application of real estate for rent and sale. "Now why couldn't the realtors think of this and give it to me?" Michalski muses. "I think that once the power slips into ordinary people's hands, people show up at the table that you didn't expect, and they do some very clever things." And imagine the plethora of new and exciting content available when more companies open up their stockpile for re-use. 

This day has already arrived at PTC's Arbortext, a provider of enterprise publishing software. The company's approach to content creation, collaboration, and distribution is reminiscent of an automobile assembly line. "Information is built as smaller information parts by teams of topic-experts, and then reassembled for multiple configurations and documents," explains Bob Gallagher, Arbortext director of communications. He believes this approach to content creation will eventually lead to on-demand content that can be mass-customized in any format for any audience.

Go With the Reflow
Moving forward, this type of content-object approach could help authors repurpose their content and share relevant bits with appropriate people. "When all of today's unstructured information is created and stored in this format, the author-owner can sell it as small topic-based information elements," Gallagher explains. This approach would also allow authors to fulfill consumer requests for specific information in specific formats, providing customized content assembled on-the-fly from multiple sources. And the bugbear issue of business models could finally be solved since authors would have the option of including micro-payments for each content element rather than having to give it all away for free.

"Around 80 percent of content is unstructured and can't be reused to construct new content," Gallagher says. But when the Internet is chock-full of content that is structured, tagged, and identified specifically for re-use, then there is no telling what creative individuals in collaboration with other creative individuals will do with it. 

It's easy to imagine a flood of new content will result when users can create and manage their content at the micro-level of words, phrases, and sentences, and the macro-level of paragraphs, section, and larger chunks. Authors, like DJs who remix tracks, will mash documents and images to deliver content in virtually any form. 

Mix this approach with personalization, and it would be possible to construct content according to user profiles or even target specific interest group communities with tailor-made content. Indeed, content creators, they say, always have the audience in the back of their minds when they publish or perform. New software and services allow creators to make the connection with the audience and invite them to participate in the creative process. And what happens—when the right people with the right ideas get together at the right time to produce the right stuff—will surely reshape the content landscape.

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Five Across

Jerry Michalski

John Seely Brown






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