Archive for the ‘open source’ Category

For many organisations the biggest concern is over losing control if they enter the social media jungle.  Drilling deeper these concerns include the following

  1. Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public
  2. Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated
  3. Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets
  4. Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects
  5. Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public

The reality is that no matter how good your service or product is you will have some unhappy customers.  Many see social media as simply giving a platform to disgruntled customers to air their views.   That said customers both happy and unhappy are already free to and indeed are sharing their views on companies through Twitter, Facebook and other channels.  Organisations can choose to ignore or engage with such discussions.

The following are good and well known examples of companies engaging with customers through social media

  • Comcast Cares –  Comcast famously turned around bad feedback by engaging and responding on Twitter initially through the work of one man  Frank Eliason.
  • Hotels on Tripadvisor – there is feedback both good and bad on Tripadvisor for hotels, the smart hotels engage and respond to these comments which shows that they listen and results in a positive impression of them and the opposite for those that are silent.
  • Lego – eventually caught on and embraced the ever growing community and sites that their customers had created – How Lego caught the Cluetrain
  • Starbucks – a great example of how to use customer ideas to change and evolve your product –  My Starbucks Idea

Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated

The sheer volume of traffic and discussions taking place on social platforms can seem overwhelming and could appear at first as though a large dedicated 24*7 team is needed to simply keep up with it and respond.

However much can be achieved with existing resources and relatively small investment of time.  A good example as mentioned previously is Comcast which had a team of 7 people managing the social media interactions to support a customer base of 24 million.

  • Tools to help manage and filter the discussions.  Should first look at the many free tools available before deciding if you need one of the commercial solutions such as Radion6 or Scout Labs.  These tools can help focus time and energy on replying to the most relevent questions and concerns raised by customers.
  • Encourage employees to participate and share the load of responding.  Engaging with social media does not require suddenly creating a whole new team or retraining all of your callcentre – a few individuals with the right tools can utilise a certain percentage of their time to help provide good coverage.
  • Community manager – a role that listens and engages with the community and provides feedback to the internal organisation

Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets

Getting the balance with moderation to minimize inappropriate content while not destroying the dynamics of the community is key.  One guiding principle is that trust is cheaper than control.  Manually moderating all user generated content would require vast resources and would never scale.  The approaches to achieving this balance include :

  • Automated spam detection services such as Mollum provide a good first line defense.
  • Community moderation – allow community members to flag inappropriate content and allow the most active respected members the ability to remove it
  • The Community manager role discussed above can also review user generated content and encourage the right kind of behaviours on the site.

Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects

Customers are not listening to the corporate speak language most companies are using to talk to them – they tune out from it as the words are unnatural and they tend to be the same as all companies.  People prefer genuine natural language and conversation.  Employees are having those conversations already with friends about their company.  Employees who want to engage with customers through social media should be encouraged to do so.   Allowing customers direct access to the best asset a company has, it’s employee’s, will have better results than any carefully crafted marketing or scripted call centre dialog.

Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Social media usually fails when approached from a technology direction – there are expensive social media platforms that the big software companies will happily sell you.  But embracing social media doesn’t require big expensive platforms.  It starts with a philosophy of having conversations with customers wherever they might be on the internet and then understanding how to change your existing online assets to enable the kinds of interactions that your customers want.  These changes should be organic and be about assembling the right technology components that allows for change in the future.  The guidelines should be as follows:

  • Think big, start small, move fast and keep moving.
  • Avoid the mindset and associated process of selecting a technology platform
  • Assemble the solutions you need from proven open source technologies and standards

Catching the cluetrain

Being successful with social media is within the reach of all companies but it will require a change of mindset and a more agile approach to succeed.  The proof is out there with those companies that have realised great success though often it has required a maverick spirit of a few individuals to make it happen.   The spirit shown by those few is captured well in the Cluetrain Manifesto that while 10 years old is more relevent than ever today – the updated 10th Anniversary edition adding recent examples of the success of such an approach to engaging in conversations.


Read Full Post »

Web Content Management (WCM) seems to mean different things to different people.  This of course can lead to confusion.  The term Web Content Management has been around for a while, since the mid 1990’s,  but two key things have changed since the term was first adopted namely the web and the type of content available over the web.

The web has become a much richer visual experience in recent years with digital content such as video, flash, images becoming far more prevalent on all sites.  Also it has become much more interactive with users generating their own content from comments, reviews, blogs, wiki’s to images, presentations, music, profile pages, video’s and applications.  The web has evolved from being a fairly static publishing tool to a dynamic social media platform.

The technical infrastructure underpinning web sites has also evolved significantly since WCM was born.  We have moved far from the early days of HTML pages and CGI scripts that add dynamic content often from a single database to platforms providing presentation templating and layout, content creation and editing tools with content aggregated from multiple sources both text and digital media.  Expectations have changed as well with content creation and management being readily available to non-technical users.

Given these changes it is no surprise that WCM has changed and evolved to adapt to the ever changing landscape.  Broadly you can divide the approaches being taken in the WCM space as those that are coupled or decoupled.

Coupled WCM (content repository + presentation combined)

A coupled WCM solution combines the presentation and navigation of the site with managing the content that is available to be included in pages.  These type of solutions typically rely on a database to manage and store content and presentation details with files for templating/layout and styling.

Examples of coupled  WCM’s include Drupal, Liferay, Joomla, Plone


  • Rich and easy to use editorial process allowing content to be easily combined and seen as it will be displayed on the site
  • Easy to associate and combine user generated content to published content
  • Often many additional modules available supporting authentication, rich media, ecommerce etc which all work off the content model
  • Requires less technical skills to manage and maintain site
  • Usually has a strong multi-site model allowing content and templates to be reused across different sites
  • Built in authentication to control access rights of users to content


  • Not so strong for managing file based assets, including versioning, grouping, transformation and workflow
  • Poor API support to expose content externally
  • Design of site needs to be aligned to templating model of solution
  • Challenges of distributing development due to configuration being stored in the database
  • Poor support for managing deployment and versions of a site

Decoupled WCM (separate repository(ies) and presentation layer)

The decoupled approach focusses on managing content independently of any presentation of the content.  So the content is managed in a repository which provides versioning, metadata, workflow and the presentation is managed in a front-end platform that allows pages and navigation to be easily managed and often provides user management.  Some decoupled repository based solutions also offer features such as allowing users their own sandboxed version of a site to change so they can preview just their own changes before those updates are deployed to the main site.  However this type of approach does assume that changes are being made to files rather than changing config/content in a database through a social media front-end such as Drupal.

Examples of content repositories: Alfresco, Nuxeo

Examples of  front-end presentation layers: web frameworks such as Django, Symphony, Ruby on Rails, coupled WCM’s like Drupal where only User Generated Content (UGC) is stored in the front-end and all other content is retreived from one or more repositories, portals such as JBoss and Liferay


  • Clean separation between content and presentation allowing different tools to be used that best suit the solution or enable use of new tools/technologies as they emerge
  • Strong API access to content within the repository
  • Ability to have several repositories that focus on certain content types such as documents or digital assets and leverage the specialised  functionality of these tools
  • Is possible to use a coupled WCM for front-end and gain the benefits that provides while reducing the limitations due to accessing content from a backend repository


  • Challenge of providing an easy to use front end for managing composite pages which combine content from multiple repositories
  • Requires integration between front-end presentation platform and backend repositories
  • Content creation might require different UI’s if this is provided by each backend repository
  • Need to define clear separation of responsibilities between front-end and backend such as where are taxonomies mastered, how is search managed across both UGC and content in backend repositories, where is access control to content managed

In cases where there is alot of disparate content potentially from many sources the decoupled approach makes the most sense – combining content from multiple sources and being able to present that using one or more front-end platforms.  Developments such as CMIS will help facilitate accessing content from various sources from the front-end platform.  The greater challenge concerns providing easy to use editorial screens to easily manage composite pages that combine content from several sources.  Utilising a rich social media platform such as Drupal for the front end will help ease this process but there is still work to be done to make this even slicker.  There is already a CMIS connector for Drupal currently tested against the Alfresco implementation of CMIS.  For good coverage of some of the future trends being discussed in content management see What is the Future of Content Management ?

If anything is sure it is that WCM will need to continue to evolve regardless of whether the acronym itself remains or is replaced by a broader content consolidation and publishing meme.  Understanding the current state and trade-offs will help ensure an informed decision is made as to the right approach for any particular enterprise strategy to exposing content over the web.

Read Full Post »

The amount of content being generated is increasing substantially due to the growth in user generated content (UGC).   This could be anything from text based content such as from blogs, forums, comments, wikis, microblogging (ie Twitter) through to media files such as images, video and audio.  This type of content is being generated by both employees and customers and is a valuable asset that companies need to manage in addition to their traditional content often generated through marketing or editorial staff.  This content explosion is also magnified by the deployment of new web sites launched to address emerging markets, lines of business or user demographics.

The reality in many organisations today is that there ends up being an increasing number of silo-ed content repositories, either using ECM packages or self developed internally.  The challenges are then around how to search across this content, reuse content across different assets, manage the content in a consistent manner and enable it to be accessed and displayed through different channels and technologies.

There have been some attempts already to try and provide consistent access to content.  One example is the Content Repository API for Java (JCR) which has had some adoption.  Of course while the Java standards are good they do restrict the adoption of the standards to those solutions based on the Java platform.

A much more promising solution lies in an emerging open standard for content access driven by OASIS.  It is the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard.  It effectively does for content what SQL did for data by providing a standard interface.  All the major ECM vendors are participating in this standard including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Sun and Vignette.   Standards of course live or die by their adoption so it is important to have such large players on board already with this new standard.  Open source solutions often lead the charge and help progress standards and Alfresco is leading the charge with CMIS.   The standard is currently at v0.5 and being a new standard is embracing current web service standards such as REST and JSON.

In addition to having the content repositories supporting the CMIS standard it is going to be equally important to have front end client support to facilitate easy access and rendering of content from backend CMIS compliant repositories.  Encouragingly there is already some activity in this area with several client connectors being developed.   Many of these are listed on the Alfresco wiki and include DrupalJoomla and Flex/Air clients.  These are not Alfresco specific but as Alfresco has progressed faster than others in supporting CMIS for their repository the CMIS clients developed have been tested against it.

So CMIS is an enabling standard to support the concept of content as a service.  As it matures and becomes widespread it will increase in adoption and help enable solutions that leverage content as a service.  These solutions could provide dashboards and management tools to help manage content across many repositories as well as tools to help monetize the access to the content.  One good example of the potential for content as a service is that of the Guardian who have opened up access to their content (including monetizing it) with their open platform.

Read Full Post »

There are couple of different areas that people are typically looking for when they investigate cloud computing for their business, namely:

  1. Flexible infrastructure that will scale dynamically as needed with pricing that scales accordingly.   They can then deploy existing or new applications/services onto this infrastructure.
  2. Applications/services available on the cloud that they can start using straight away with minimal change while scaling the number of users dynamically as needed – sometimes known as SaaS.

Right now the second option is limited in terms of the number and type of solutions available, with a few established players such as Salesforce.com getting most attention.  There are of course a number of niche SaaS solutions available but these tend to be quite closed in nature and don’t really offer any kind of platform for growth.  Hopefully this will change over time providing greater choice to customers with more vendors and services available including open source options.

The first option of using cloud computing infrastructure is growing in popularity as it provides a more cost effective and scalable solution for deploying new applications whilst not constraining enterprises from having to pick from the somewhat limited selection of SaaS solutions available in the market.

The large established solutions in the cloud infrastructure solution space include Amazon EC2, Google AppEngine and Microsoft Azure.  However there is much more choice becoming available with a number of interesting open source solutions emerging.

Slight digression but does anyone care if the infrastructure is open source or not ?  Well you should care as having people share the code underpinning these technologies will allow a greater number of solutions to be developed with faster evolution and improvement of the technology which is better for everyone.   Good analogy is to think of science where information and discoveries are freely shared allowing for further and faster progress and advancement in many areas – open source brings that free sharing and progress philosophy to software.

So here are some of the open source initiatives worth looking at in the cloud computing infrastructure space.  Not only are they interesting of themselves but some of them like Hadoop are building blocks that can and are being used in assembling other initiatives and solutions.

  • Open source cloud computing platforms
    • Joyent – uses OpenSolaris and OpenSocial
    • Eucalyptus – education driven project supporting Amazon’s EC2 interface
    • Reservoir – European initiative with backing from IBM
    • Enomaly – uses RedHat’s libvert for virtualisation
  • Open source massively parallel distributed database technology
  • Open source cloud computing components
    • Reductivelabs – provides cloud infrastructure tools Puppet and Facter
    • Hadoop – Apache highly scalable distributed filesystem used by HBase and other projects
    • OpenNebula – virtual machine management, used in Reservoir project

Learn->Share->Improve – collectively we can build and assemble the open cloud computing platform giving everyone more choice at lower cost.

Read Full Post »

Eventually you realise that email just doesn’t cut it when it comes to collaborating, especially when working with a team of people even for a short period of time on only a small number of documents.  What you really need is a team collaboration space.

A team collaboration tool should offer some or all of the following :-

  • Web based project space for each project
  • Ability to invite people to join the project space (this could be both colleagues and external clients/partners)
  • Sharing of documents – should offer transparent version control, check-in/check-out
  • Wiki pages to share information (ie meeting notes, reference information, project objectives, status reports etc)
  • Forums/blogs for sharing information within the team
  • Calendar capability to specify events related to the team
  • Ticketing system for assigning ownership and tracking of tasks/actions
  • Full text search across all content or particular types of content
  • Integration to instant messaging tools to have team chat conversations recorded in project space
  • If used for technical projects could also include integrated source code control and build automation tools
  • Integration to other services such as Yammer (think closed Twitter for internal company use).  Yammer group updates could be shown in project space

Alot of these tools exist and such shared project spaces is really about assembling these tools together and enabling rapid configuration of new spaces as needed.

Providing these kind of tools can make a big impact on productivity.  It reduces problems related to what is the latest version of a document, or islands of information locked in people’s local machines or inboxes.  This issue becomes most apparent when someone new joins a project and you then have to try and forward all related emails or documents, with a project space everything would be available in one single place with a full history of progress.

Some solutions in this space are as follows :-

  • Basecamp – SaaS service with subscription model, free version available with some limits which is worth trying to seeing if offers what you need
  • OForge – open source assembled solution includes wiki, ticketing, svn, build tool integration
  • Alfresco Share – open source solution with strong document management core, search, blogs/forums, wiki’s, calendar

Additional useful tools include web conferencing with desktop share/whiteboards/chat/video such as Adobe ConnectNow (free for up to 3 people) and DimDim (free for up to 20 people).

Adopting tools such as this can sometimes be the hardest part – the only way is to trial it for one project and gain familiarity with some key features such as document management and wiki’s and then use it more and more as confidence and experience grows.  Experience shows that once people get used to the benefits they get from having all the information they need in one place they never want to return to the days of chasing others for documents and meeting notes.

Read Full Post »

Open source is becoming much more mainstream now than a few years ago.  It has moved beyond it’s pure dev tools and infrastructure heritage of Linux, GNU and Apache.  It now has offerings in many of the traditional enterprise application spaces and productivity tools.  These include CRM, ERP, eCommerce, BPM, ECM, ESB and BI.

The dramatic growth in the available open source solutions doesn’t mean however that all are suitable for deployment within an enterprise environment.  The following are the areas you should consider when determining if there is a good open source solution that is proven, mature and enterprise grade.

  1. Maturity of solution (ie beyond v1.0, number of years in market, references)
  2. Existence of a commercial backing for the solution which provides support and QA of releases
  3. Number and reach of partners (ie SI’s, training, support, global presence)
  4. Size and activity of the community
  5. Adoption and usage by large enterprises

There are a number of useful resources available that can help in selecting a mature, proven, enterprise open source solution :

So perhaps this is in the wrong order or perhaps the following question is being asked less often.  So the above discusses how you go about selecting an enterprise open source solution but why should an open source solution be considered as part of an enterprise architecture ?

Key reasons for considering an open source solution for the enterprise:

  1. Saving in license and maintenance costs over equivalent proprietary (closed source) solutions
  2. Better alignment to business needs – less bloat,  just the features you need and none of the ones you don’t
  3. Open standards compliance.  Important for both interoperability with existing ecosystem and availability of resources with those skills
  4. Ability to truly influence roadmap and give back to the community at large
  5. Access to source code provides greater ability to debug and enhance solutions
  6. Easy access to wealth of community experience and enhancements available
  7. Try before you buy – download the community edition and try using it, get instant feedback from users before commitment made to proceed

In conclusion open source or proprietary is not an either/or situation – a balance of both is necessary to meet the needs of an enterprise.  With the growing acceptance and usage of open source solutions within the largest enterprises in the world, open source is being considered on equal footing to proprietary applications in several domains and decisions made are based on proven references at the right scale and fit to the business requirements.

Read Full Post »