A New Paradigm in Web Applications

Services such as Ning (http://ning.com), Shopify (http://shopify.com), and WordPress’ blog system are making it possible for people to provide a social network, ecommerce, or blog with little to no technical experience. Many of these people will succeed, their sites will become popular with a community, their products will be purchased, and the blogs will be read. Eventually, they may want to integrate their initial offering with additional applications, using the same approach.

Web companies that can gracefully integrate diverse, distributed, externally-hosted applications into an attractive, polished, cohesive site, will provide a path for independent people to transition their basic, hosted, presence on the web into more robust site.

An extension of this is the ability for a collection of organizations to indentify their content as related, and their group as cooperative. The opportunity is in designing and integrating the independent elements gracefully.

The engineering required in these cases is the management of the CSS and supporting elements, definition of system common, site common, application common, and page specific elements. Browser caching must be handled very carefully, to ensure optimal use of the cache, while delivering the latest versions of the files. Sourcing of files is also key, meaning creating a filesystem and server architecture that will work well for many designs.

Designers will have to consider the same issues, and work with the engineering team to achieve the best solutions.

Companies should avoid including language in the design (particularly images), or creating an appropriate architecture to allow multi-lingual sites with language in images.

The real value here is that people can use a hosted service to test an idea. They can bring a shop to life in minutes, manage it themselves for months, then turn to a company for help transitioning it into a full site and system with a custom design and additional features. This greatly reduces the required administration of applications, because when the clients approach the web companies, they already know how to use the application and the content is established. Improvements can always be made, but the majority of the work will be done (as with any project, sometimes, the work done may be done poorly as well).

If a web company identifies a potential client that doesn’t have the budget for a custom solution, refering them to a hosted solution with an offer of future extension is a nice way to help people and create the possibility of a relationship later.