Utah RSS in Government Publisher's Meeting


One of the reasons I went to Salt Lake today was to attend the Utah Government RSS Publisher's meeting. This group meet at irregular intervals to talk about how governments can use RSS. Ray Mtthews is the leader of the group and put a splendid program together for today: Jordan Frank from Traction Software and Bill French from Myst Technology Partners.

Jordan Frank from Traction Software who makes the TeamPage product. (See Jon Udell review at InfoWorld.) TeamPage uses WebDAV for document management, has pluggalbe LDAP authentication, and has support for mobile devices. Its used by the DOD (CIO's office), Justice (Western States Information Network), Homeland Security (AZ Customs and Border Security) and State of Connecticut (Network Security definition and tracking). The State of Utah, by the way, uses Movable Type for some of these same purposes.

Traction positions teampage as a "time-ordered journal" as opposed to a "personal podium." This is really just marketing to position themselves "above" the blogging world as a "serious piece of enterprise IT software." The thing walks like a blog, talks like a blog and looks like a blog. At its core, it's a blog. In fact, if I showed you one of their pages, you'd have a tough time telling that it wasn't produced by Movable Type. The difference is not so much that TeamPage isn't a blog, but that its a system for using multiple blogs in concert.

Traction's RSS feed is dynamic, allowing custom RSS feeds by keyword, poster, and so on. Access control allows RSS feeds to protected for certain users.

There are some interesting ways that they system puts blogs together for enterprise use. For example, projects can contain multiple blogs and each project can have various ways of aggregating the content from these blogs including keyword and category. People have "homepages" on the system that shows projects and alerts that they're interested in.

I have to admit that I see some immediate benefit to these features. For example, I use blogs in my research lab, but there's no good way for me to take interesting entries from the blogs my research assistants write and promote them to the lab homepage. All the pieces are there to make this work in Movable Type, for example, but its not built out yet.

They use blog tools to create a forum where users leave comments as blog posts in certain blogs about certain topics. This also seems like a good way to integrate discussion forum and blogging tools. People can leave comments on a blog about a topic the author has posted, but there's not usually a way for them to start their own thread in a way controlled by the owner of the blog.

Many of the interesting features of TeamPage are enabled by support for more sophisticated access control. The ability to selectively control multiple actions on a project by project basis from a corporate directory enables the use of the software for things you might not use a standard blog package for.

Another addition that's more sophisticated that what you'd find on a standard blog is a searching tool that does more than just full text search. For example, it allows you to triangulate on specific pieces of information by selecting several articles and then finding other information like those articles.

Another interesting feature is what Traction calls the "collector." The collector is like a shopping cart for articles. You use the collector to collect references to posts in the system as you drive around and then you can do various things with the collection such as email them to someone, post them somewhere, create a portlet called a linkbox, publish them to PDF, and so on. This is handy for sending out a list of references to someone, promoting articles to the homepage, or creating a list of articles for other uses. This would be handy. I'd especially like to have it grab not only blog articles, but pictures, documents, and other content.

I'd like to see a Del.icio.us-like way of collaboratively linking articles on a multiple blog platform.

Bill French from MyST Technology Partners also spoke today. I've interacted with Bill several times online, but we'd never met in person, so I was anxious to listen to him speak.

Bill's talking about syndication as IT infrastructure. Syndication is about effective information interchange and that drives value creation. Bill asks "what will the world be like in 10 years when there's 500 billion XML documents on the Web?" This vast amount of data can be browsed, it will have to find its way to the people who want it.

MyST platform is a loosely coupled, framework of legos for solving IT problems. Presentation architecture is consistent, based on XSLT, and standard's based (RESTful). This makes it easy for Google and other search engines to find and catalog content.

Bill gives the following requirements for syndication

  • Scalability and agility: e.g. how many formats do you support? Can you add new formats easily?
  • integration: past and future
  • Pervasive security and permission controls
  • Localization and encoding e.g. translation of feeds to Spanish
  • Quality assurance and testing e.g. are there certain keywords in a feed?
  • Legal and compliance e.g. look for trademarks, copyrights, personal data, etc.
  • Discoverability
  • User satisfaction and performance
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Historical snapshots
  • Valid XML, all links work
  • Performance tracking e.g. how do you track click-thrus, hits, etc.
  • Staging, testing, promotion, scheduling, etc. of feeds

Dividends from using syndication as an infrastructural component include

  • Ability to meet shifting demands
  • Rapid time-to-market
  • Greater interoperability
  • Improved application quality

Bill says that its time for organizations to creating the position of "newsmaster" which is analogous to "webmaster" about strictly about syndicated data in the enterprise.

Bill gives some examples of companies using their platform for infrastructure level syndication. Verisign has a syndication site called rss.verisign.com. Intel has one at rss.intel.com. Another example is a "learning blogosphere" that they created for a business class (BIT320). Students use any Weblog software they like and there's a public environment, but using syndication, MyST created a private area that incorporates all of these and can use it to comment on their work, see what's new, and so on.

Bill shows how one of these blogosphere can be used as an information space for product research and competitive intelligence. The platform harvests information from blogs on Oracle and other forums. The system interoperates with Office 2004's research pane using MOSTEL(?) so that you can search this system from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.

Partner watch is a service that creates an RSS feed of alerts whenever certain Websites stop mentioning certain words. For example, if you're a PR person, you might want to know when certain magazines or sites stop mentioning your product or company and are mentioning your competitors.

Dedicated feedreaders (like MyST's Flash-based Kerry news reader) will be important. They represent packaged content that people can get all at once with one install and it can be presented in specific contexts.

Bill's parting comment: RSS is too important to ignore. Your company needs a syndication strategy. Bill's talk was excellent, by the way. Lots of innovative ideas that I'm sure caused everyone to rethink how they view syndication technologies. Just what I was looking for.