Tuesday, May 4, 2010

MarkLogic User Conference 2010 - Content as the Platform

Give an analyst a free conference pass and travel expenses to go to a rocking conference with hundreds of key people attending from content and technology companies and it's worth at least a thought. Make it MarkLogic that's doing the hosting and get a slot to moderate a great panel on mobile markets and it's pretty much a lock in my book. Mark Logic does an excellent job not only of attracting good speakers but with forming a really cogent program of topics that rivals many trade associations for its quality and thoughtfulness. Mind you, the MarkLogic User Conference 2010 was sponsored, but by a company that's right in the thick of the platforms that are creating value in today's content industry.

And what is creating value? Being able to transform, combine and deliver content from as many sources as possible that are relevant to an audience on as many platforms as possible. In some ways cross-platform is the platform of choice these days, with a proliferation of personal, professional and mobile outlets for content that are driving content use wherever and whenever it becomes useful in the moment. MarkLogic is far from the only company in this mix, but it has certainly come a long way in the past several years to position itself as one of the leading platforms for cross-platform content aggregation and deployment.

I'll was commenting on the individual speakers and panels during the event on Google Buzz and tweeting links to those posts using the #mluc10 tag, and have listed the Buzz links here along with an event wrapup.
To sum up the conference, it was a great event with lots of good presentations and discussions that brought the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco up to full capacity often. Since much of the event was multi-tracked I had to miss a lot of the presentations, but what I was able to see painted a very interesting picture of how content development is moving ever closer to the user interface via technologies such as MarkLogic's. While "cross-platform as the platform" was the theme I chose for the panel that I moderated on mobile markets, in a broader sense technologies like MarkLogic that help to compress the time and complexity required to express structured content as user experiences is turning content itself into the platform. 

It's not just that an XML server can aggregate content from many different types of sources in a common format and structure. On the front end of that server both the MarkLogic-extended XQuery language and more common standards for content expression such as XSLT (soon to be supported directly by MarkLogic) collapse the complexity and layers required to take content from a raw, normalized form into usable content on the Web and in applications. In a sense, we're at the point where Web browsers and app containers on mobile platforms are sophisticated enough that we no longer need oodles of complex infrastructure out on the Web to serve up relatively dumb content. Content can be expressed to browsers with dynamic elements of both structured content and programmed presentation so tightly bound with data query tools that the need for many intermediate layers of programming and functionality begins to fade away. In a sense, the query itself becomes the expression of the content - a Content Management System on the fly,  if you will.

An interesting example of this surfaced in one of the presentations that focused on MarkLogic's technology strategy for managing dynamic failover. In essence, rather than trying to manage failover synchronization issues via an operating system's file system, MarkLogic decided instead to bypass the file system data writing features of file systems and instead write to the computer's disk partitions directly. To put it more simply, in large part MarkLogic eliminates the need to rely on one of a computer operating system's most essential features to read and write data from computer storage to keep backup computers systems in sync (this is an old technique, but applied in an interesting way). So from a very low, "close to the hardware" level to a very high "close to the interface" level, MarkLogic technologies are eliminating whole layers of cost, complexity and investment to get sophisticated content pulled from many sources published effectively. You can add in these layers as needed, of course, but they're far less necessary, now.

This allows people who are content experts and user interface experts to get to the point of being able to apply their insights far more rapidly and effectively. There were numerous examples of this at the MarkLogic conference for a wide variety of publications and applications, including analysis of national security threats, scientific journal publishing and custom book publishing. Instead of getting caught up in technology issues that are far removed from the display containers such as browsers in which content is expressed, most of the effort can now be spent far closer to those platforms and their users. As the breadth and sophistication of content display tools has been increasing dramatically in recent years, this is a critical factor for spending product development dollars wisely.

You really cannot afford to spend too heavily on infrastructure far removed from users when your return on investment in publishing is from managing the user-level complexities required to build large audiences through today's explosion of services, devices and display formats. You have to be very close to the content in a form that's readily transformed for their use. Content is the platform indeed, leaving most everything else behind that content as a commoditized cloud supporting it. Specific performance requirements such as high levels of security or high-speed delivery may draw in specialized technologies into this mix, but it will be increasingly rare that we'll see standing IT departments dedicated to layers of technologies that are easily eliminated via the "content as the platform" model.

When I first met MarkLogic CEO Dave Kellogg many years ago, I was one of the first analysts for whom he was turning slides in his pitches to sell the world on the idea of easily queried XML servers. Much has changed for MarkLogic since those early days, but the most important change is that publishers of all sizes in many markets are now "getting" the MarkLogic vision and adopting it to accelerate their content services development. Between technologies like MarkLogic and concepts such as cloud computing and software as a service, content technologies are pushing us towards an era in which more efforts by publishers can be spent on highly satisfying electronic content experiences rather than on IT for IT's sake. 
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