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LEGACY SNAPSHOT: Atomate Information Feeds

Atomate - Executive summary

Atomate is a Web 2.0 application for creating, editing and managing web content. It is also used for creating and maintaining news feeds and blogs. It is particularly suited to institutional web services, where the same content is to be used and re-used for outward facing websites and inward facing portals.

Web 2.0 is a recently coined term that characterises the new uses and technologies of the web. It is the manifestation of the "inventor" of the web, Tim Berners-Lee's, original vision of the "writable web". Until now anyone wanting to "put something up on the web" had a few, not entirely satisfactory ways of doing it. They could pass the text and possbily images (content) to a "web person" to do it for them. They could have a web administrator create them a website, learn about HTML (and other associated "technologies" like CSS and Javascript), and license and learn a desktop application like Dreamweaver or Contribute and do the work themselves.

What Atomate and other Web 2.0 style applications do is provide an extremely simple, word processor like, web based system that allows the content to be typed-in and "published". It is this simplicity that has enabled the explosive growth of blogs and community websites like MySpace. Atomate's first goal is to make it just as easy for institution staff (and even students) to publish web material for the institution as it is for today's youth to put their content up on MySpace, et-al.

Is there a danger of wild, uncontrolled, proliferation of possibly inappropriate web content? No. Atomate defines a sensible structure of infofeeds. Nothing can be published outside of this structure, sometimes referred to as the atomstore. Each infofeed has a system of authoring control, which utilises the institutions Identity Management (IM) infrastructure to authenticate and authorise any content creation or editing. Each piece of content is attributable. There is also a nascent workflow system where a piece of content (an Entry) must be pass through an "approval" process before finally appearing on the web.

The second goal of Atomate is to make the simple to produce web content, infinitely, automatically, re-factorable for use in any web environment. The infofeed content can be "consumed" within any website page or within the portlets that make-up a portal. The consumption can be targeted at and for particular "communities" or audiences. It can also be restricted to defined communities. Such targeting and restrictions can be driven again by the institutions IM system. Infofeeds can be made available as news feeds and consumed by desktop applications like email, web browsers and feed aggregators.

Is the technology behind Atomate proven? Yes. The core technology is Atom (more formally the Atom Syndication Format), an IETF international Open Standard (RFC4287). This is an XML vocabulary that is rapidly replacing RSS, an earlier incarnation of an XML syndication format. Atom has seen rapid take-up by all major web industry players including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The components that form the Atomate system are all best-of-breed Open Source projects that are highly respected in the web development community.

The design principles that underpin Atomate are proven and well understood. So, for web administrators, there is no steep learning curve to the maintenance and monitoring of the system. There is also no need for extensive investment in hardware, databases, software licences or technical training. It will run as part of a standard institutional web service.

Atomate provides an ideal platform for pursuing the idea of "Open Data". This concept deprecates the practice of locking-up an organisation's data (used in it's widest sense, including documents) within proprietary file formats and databases. When data is "opened" it can be mined for information which can then be reused. It unlocks an organisation's "information" - it's lifeblood. The "open" concept is being championed by many European governments and their agencies, including the UK. It is quite likely that the use of Open Standards will be mandatory in the reasonably near future.

Finally, here are some examples of the uses to which Atomate is ideally suited (most of the links to working examples or demonstrations are only available on Exeter's intranet):

  • "Latest News" for the institution and groups within it, University of Exeter News
  • "Group Blogs" for focussed communication within working groups, e-Benchmarking
  • "Media Repository" for collections of images, videos, podcasts, etc.
  • "Document Repository" for collections of documents which become well organised and easily discoverable, even unlocking information buried within the documents
  • "Publications/Bibliographies"
  • "Key Documents" such as Module descriptions and Programme specifications, Student Handbooks, Committee papers, etc.
Updated: 21-Feb-2007 15:35 by: Ray Burnley
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