Web 2.0.5? Rethinking Content Management and Portals

Back in 2002, I ventured myself into the wonders of open source Content Management System (CMS). Being a former SysOp for two Bulletin Board Systems during the mid-nineties, I was extremely excited with the prospects of what could be built using free tools to create dynamic and rich web portals – the web was finally making sense, I thought! However, a lot changed since 2002, and it seems that the open source Content Management Systems are lost in the plot.

I wanted to build a portal that would allow my family, which is scattered all over the world, to communicate and share information. I quickly got involved in the development of PostNuke, a free CMS based on the free PHP scripting language. Not only it was free, it was very active in terms of developing new features. However, sometime around the development of the 0.70 version of PostNuke, some disagreement surfaced amongst the developing team about the adoption of PostNuke’s upcoming templating system. As a result, PostNuke was forked into a new CMS system called Xaraya.

Xaraya was a full of new promises, and most of them were fulfilled. It has a more flexible core, flexible template and layout system, strong debugging and error support and an extensive API. In my opinion, from an architectural perspective Xaraya is the best open source CRM out there. Of course this is only my opinion, which I based on my experience with several other systems (Xoops, Drupal, PHP-Nuke, etc), and I can proudly assert that I am the original creative thinker of several features that have been adopted by Xaraya. Looking back in time however I feel that most CMS systems, not matter how good their API or framework is, are failing to keep up with the recent trends and developments in the Internet.

First and foremost, portals are designed with the end-user in mind. It doesn’t matter who your target audience is and their level of knowledge; the portal must make sense to its user base, not its administrators. What is the value that you are willing to offer to our user base? And most importantly, what is that your portal has to offer to your potential user base that users can’t find somewhere else? This is the fundamental basis of a marketing orientation approach, in which the organisations must be aware of customer needs and the competition. So if you are offering a photo gallery, forums and some basic social network features, bear in mind that there are tons of other sites out there that are offering the same for free. As an example, which should members of my family register at my portal to make use of forums and photo galleries when they could use Facebook and Flickr?

Another point is that users don’t like redundancy and ambiguity. Users don’t want to register into yet another website, in which they will have to maintain yet another identity and upload pictures once again. With the recent trends in Web 2.0 users are welcoming integration of social networking features, which is exactly what I think is missing in Content Management Systems at the moment. With Facebook’s application framework and Google’s approach with the Open Social platform, there is a lot of development opportunities that free Content Management Systems are failing to grasp.

For my family website, I would like that my users could log-in into the portal using their existing Windows Live, Yahoo or Google ID, and be able to make use of social network features of sites like Facebook and Google’s Open Social. I would also like my users to be able to link their Flickr photo gallery into their profile at my family portal, and to be able to interact with related groups in Facebook and Orkut. In the case of my portal, it would be futile to expect my user base to participate in it. Why you ask? Well my family portal is a silo of information, meaning that only the users of my family portal would be able to interact with the data. It is unrealistic to expect that my users would actively participate in discussions and upload pictures and other contents, while they could do the same in portals with a wider audience like Facebook or Orkut.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Content Management Systems shouldn’t have their own photo galeries, forums and other functionality. On the contrary, I do love to see all the fantastic open source applications that are out there and I think they are a viable option for portals in which integration with 3rd parties would be unrealistic. This is particularly the case in which portals memberships are closed to given members (e.g.: site is closed for subscribers or over 18s only). However, being most of these features modularised, I believe that portal administrators should have the freedom to choose. Moreover with Web 2.0, portal owners could have their implementations of Menalto’s Gallery and phpBB forums integrated with Facebook or Google’s Open Social platform. The possibilities are numerous.

Therefore I urge for the developers of open source CMS out there to start adapting their systems to integrate with what Web 2.0 has to offer. Authentication modules for Windows Live, Yahoo and Google IDs would be a great start. More documentation and modules that focus on integration with Facebook and Google’s Open Social would also be of great value for portals that are willing to target a wide user base.

EDIT: As per the St. Ego’s comments below, I decided to add some links to relevant APIs and documentation that would help developers that are up for the challenge:
Facebook
Developer's Site Contains everything you need to get started in order to build integrated Facebook applications.
Open Source Projects Since Facebook has been built from the ground up using open source software, in this page you can access several Facebook open source projects, including its main platform.
Facebook Connect Coming Soon. This service will allow third party websites to implement and offer Facebook features, enabling users to "connect" their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site.
Google
Google Code Google's start page for developers. Contains link for several Google application APIs.
Open Social Google's Open Social API aims to define a common API for social applications across multiple web sites.
Yahoo!
Developer's Site Yahoo! Developer Network contains everything you need to know about using Yahoo! APIs and web services.
Yahoo! BBA How to implement Yahoo! Browser Base Authentication, which allow users to authenticate on third party websites using their Yahoo! log-in.
PHP Dev Centre Yahoo! Developer Network has a special site which aggregates tutorials and documentation on how to create applications in PHP to interact with Yahoo! Since PHP is the most used web scripting language by open source Content Management Systems, I though that providing a direct link to it can be useful
Windows Live
Windows Live The starting point for developers interested in Windows Live APIs, SDKs and web services. Includes Live ID, Virtual Earth, Live Messenger, Live Contacts and many more.
Windows Live ID Everything you need to know to implement Windows Live authentication into third party websites.

2 Comments

  • Post links to the API docs for Windows Live, Yahoo and GoogleID. Auth modules are not terribly difficult to rig up if an existing API is available to auth against successfully. So, post the links to those and let this article serve as an open challenge to the Xaraya community to get them implemented. I'd be willing to take a crack at the GoogleID auth module, personally, but could care less about Windows Live and Yahoo at the moment.

  • St Ego. Good point about posting links. I updated the post as per your suggestions. Thanks!

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