Volume 24 Number 07
Editor's Note - Viva la Evolution!
By Howard Dierking | July 2009
In this issue of MSDN Magazine, we will take a more focused look at the state of Web development. This is actually a pretty relevant topic for me at the moment, as I've been in and out of meetings over the past month in which we've been trying to define and come to consensus around what MSDN (not just the magazine) should be and how it should evolve. As such, I want to give you my perspective as a content publisher on how the problem domain of the Web has evolved and how Web applications are going to need to evolve to solve them.
It's interesting to see how far the pendulum has swung in terms of the fundamental problems related to content and the Web. Not too long ago, the major challenge was making content available. Evolution happened quickly, however—and handwritten HTML was replaced by WYSIWYG editors, and then the whole editing environment was supplanted entirely by blogs and wikis. The problem of publishing effectively disappeared. Anyone with an idea and an Internet connection could publish content for all to consume.
Before the novelty of this newly democratized world of content could sink in, the core problem shifted from making content available to finding the right content. Enter the rise of search engines. Now, I've got no problem with search—I use it as a regular part of doing business. For example, have you ever submitted an article idea and received a response similar to, "There's already a sufficient amount of coverage on this topic?" You can blame your search engine for that. For all of its effectiveness in finding content, however, I think that search has effectively enabled folks in the content business to gloss over some more fundamental problems in our approach to publishing and managing content on the Web—particularly with respect to information architecture. As I look over all of the content that can be found today on MSDN, I am overwhelmed at both the sheer volume of content and the lack of cohesion among the various content elements. I'm also bothered by the fact that I can search for MSDN Magazine articles on WCF and be presented with an article that was based on an early CTP of Indigo. I'm not suggesting that such an article should be outright pulled down—there may be value in the conceptual explanations. However, there should absolutely be more attention given to lifetime management policy.
So why am I bringing up issues of content management? For one, it's a domain that I'm pretty familiar with. More important, however, I think it highlights where the problems are now shifting on the Web. For example, we've solved the problem of publishing and we have decent a solution for finding content. The next major evolution is in composing experiences that bring together lots of disparate elements into a single context. This means thinking about how to break apart various application and content silos such that a combination of content and application services can be put together into any context, as decided by the user—in short, this means thinking of everything as a mashup. For me, it means that if my intent—my context—is to read an article about WCF, I shouldn't have to stop what I'm doing so that I can navigate to a different Web application if I have a question to post, only to later rely on the back button to return to the article. I should be able to construct a single context consisting of a content item and a forums application service.
Getting to this next step is going to require some work, in both refactoring to break application silos into services and learning to think of Web applications as compositions. I'm therefore excited to see articles like Shawn Wildermuth's article on composite Silverlight applications (Page 35) and Aaron Skonnard's article on REST and the ASP.NET MVC framework (Page 48). Finally, for more on refactoring Web applications, check James Kovacs' series on brownfield development, aptly titled "Extreme ASP.NET Makeover."
Thanks to the following Microsoft technical experts for their help with this issue: Adrian Bateman, Sam Bent, Laurent Bugnion, Matt Ellis, Mike Fourie, Steve Fox, Don Funk, Alex Gorev, Aaron Hallberg, Luke Hoban, Robert Horvick, John Hrvatin, Bret Humphrey, Katy King, Brian Kretzler, Bertrand LeRoy, Dan Moseley, Stephen Powell, and Delian Tchoparinov.