Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RAD without tears - how enterprise web 2.0 fulfills the promise

Like many other technology fashions, the Rapid Application Development (RAD) process made many extravagent claims which crumbled under the demands of real-world development. The goal of RAD is to create a series of prototypes which incrementally close in on the ideal customer

The problem is not so much the RAD (or Agile, or Extreme) process itself, but the limitations of the tools used to implement them. There has always been a moment of truth in RAD tools when the team moved from prototyping to "real" development.

If the prototyping is done with a lightweight tool like Visio, the moment you move to a heavyweight tool like J2EE, you lose your agility to respond to user feedback. The ideal solution would be a tool that can create deployable prototypes.

Why do Enterprise Web 2.0 tools have the potential to support RAD where other worthy technologies have failed? There are several reasons:
  1. Drag-n-drop web app creation: the ability to create a rich interface quickly makes the prototyping part of RAD much easier;
  2. Assembly-based development: the ability to assemble lightweight applications that invoke more heavyweight web services keeps the development team nimble;
  3. Web-based delivery: users are much more likely to provide feedback if it is easy for them to access and try out prototypes. Web-based delivery ensures better communication between developers and users, particularly for a distributed team.
  4. Standards-based deployment: many traditional RAD tools like PowerBuilder and MS Access produce applications which don't meet corporate security and managability standards. Web 2.0 tools fit more naturally with IT requirements.
Along the same lines, I delicious-ed (to Haig-ize a verb) across an interesting link by Siorc proclaiming that Web 2.0 is the new RAD. I think his theme is right, but the more precise statement would be that enterprise Web 2.0 tools have the potential to fulfill many of the promises made by RAD.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

School 2.0 - How Web 2.0 is Changing Enterprise School Applications

My friend Lee Wilson just posted an entry on the impact of Web 2.0 technology on school software that you can read here. He spent some time talking to ActiveGrid partner Eljakim about their Carel Student Attendance System that we announced here.

He believes that Web 2.0 will give parents more control over their children's education and accelerate the trend towards statewide deployment of educational software. What he believes are needed are effective and easy-to-use tools for building Web 2.0 apps. Sounds like a job for Activegrid!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dutch Schools Use Web 2.0 to Improve Graduation Rates for 200,000 Students

One clear indicator of the state of the Enterprise Web 2.0 market is the dearth of real case studies. ActiveGrid's partner, Eljakim IT just increased the number of meaty Enterprise 2.0 success stories by 1.

Social Computing Magazine just picked up a case study on an ActiveGrid customer who used ActiveGrid to build Web 2.0 attendance system. To read the Social computing article, click here or if you want to Digg this, click here

The system is tracking 200,000 students and is used by 500 school administrators and social workers. The application itself contains over 300 web pages. The full case study is here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

PowerBuilder for Web 2.0

Judith Hurwitz recently wrote a very interesting article comparing the Web 2.0 tools world today with the early days of client/server GUI builders. Her article is located here. Among other clever things, she says:
Just as PowerBuilder provided a way for the masses to create a graphical first
generation environment, so this next generation of development tools will bring
Web 2.0 to a broad audience.

This summarizes exactly the market opportunity we are seeing at ActiveGrid. The reality is that most corporations use internet for external, customer-facing apps but deploy old-fashioned client/server employee-facing apps behind the firewall. Observations about the cobbler’s children having the worst shoes definitely apply!

Our goal is to bring the web revolution to client/server developers who have been left behind by complex code frameworks like J2EE, .NET, even Rails. Mitchell Kertzman, who is on our board, is helping us undo the client/server revolution he started at PowerSoft. Our goal is to drive the pendulum from distributed, fat-client systems back to centralized, thin-client systems.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ten Ways to Kick-Start a User Community – how ActiveGrid boosted postings by 10 times in five months

Every software vendor dreams of having a vibrant user community to provide input, buzz and maybe even someday help make money! When I joined ActiveGrid six months ago, the user community on SourceForge was dead, with one to two posting per day. Now the community has over 15 posts a day, a more than ten-fold increase in less than six months.

This describes the steps we took to go from zero to somebody in the enterprise tools forum world. ActiveGrid is a visual tool for building web apps, sort of an MS Access for the Web. Our success as a tool is closely tied to the strength of our community.

1. Crown a community czar

Taking care of the community had been an ad hoc activity at ActiveGrid. As usual, whenever something is everybody’s job, it ends up at the end of everybody’s todo list.

The most important step we took to kick-start our community was to assign a full-time employee to manage the health and well-being of the community. The skills required for success include good technical and writing abilities combined with a genuine interest in open source communities.

2. Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket!

For historical reasons, ActiveGrid had several different forums. There was even an abandoned community started by an ActiveGrid fan. It was thriving, but only because spammers had loaded all the forums with postings that were off topic to say the least. It took over a month to get all the forum traffic funneled into just one community board.

3. Use best of breed forum tools

We found that the ActiveGrid SourceForge forums were hard to navigate and didn’t allow attachments. Our community czar moved the community to Drupal and rehosted it at The new Drupal site helped make it easier to post content, helping to drive a flood of new posts. In addition, the Drupal forum software handles attachments and graphics, making it much more valuable for sharing information.

4. Connect with your base

The first thing our community czar did was to reach out to the people who were actively posting (even though many of their postings had to do with how un-loved they were feeling). He contacted them directly through email and built personal relationships with what we called the “Fab 4” – the top 4 posters who became the foundation for the rebirth of our community. One important lesson is that a small core of active posters is the soul of a healthy community.

5. Turn off the spin

At the risk of sounding cluetrain manifesto-ish, we made an early decision to err on the side of transparency in communicating with our community. We admitted that we had been lax in our support of the community and asked for their help. We also kept the community strictly separate from the commercial side of the house. Using community to flog commercial ideas will go nowhere. It’s like the joke about why you shouldn’t teach a pig to whistle – it doesn’t work and it annoys the pig.

6. Coddle early adopters

In a new community, one active poster is worth 1,000 lurkers. Given this, anything you can do to help incubate people with the gift of gab is worthwhile. We gave away ipods, bought lunches, but most importantly built personal relationships with our community champions.

7. Foster healthy competition

Each posting at earns the poster points, that aren’t redeemable in any way except in our rankings. Anyone in the community who wants to be seen by their peers as an ActiveGrid expert has to work pretty hard just to stay at the top of the rankings.

8. Find work for your users

Many of the posters in the ActiveGrid community are consultants. Every chance we get, we put our corporate customers in touch with community experts. This is classic win-win – our customers get their jobs done and our community champions have even more reasons to be enthusiastic about our products.

9. Take your lumps

Not all postings are positive. Not all community members are polite. Having a community manager actively working to address issues as they arise has proven the most effective way of keeping the overall tone of the community constructive.

10. Explore the boundaries

We are now at the fun stage in working with the community, where we are exploring the boundaries of what you can do with a passionate and committed group of people, all of whom are focused on helping you deliver a great product to market.

For example, the community has provided invaluable beta testing on our last three releases. Top community members have also had one-on-one meetings with our engineering team to help us engineer our next generation product. On the business side, we have asked the community for help in devising our pricing and licensing.

We have not yet fully tapped the potential of the community, but have absolutely turned the community into a powerful driver of momentum. It has been extraordinary how quickly the gains in the community have been reflected by increased business activity and enthusiasm among our commercial customers. Success is infectious!