FatWire Community and Gadget Servers

FatWire recently announced two new products -- "Gadget Server" and "Community Server" -- both aimed at website visitors. Community Server provides user-generated content services such as blogs, ratings, reviews, and comments. Gadget Server allows you to serve up lightweight components called Gadgets.

Both these applications run on FatWire's Content Server platform that we cover in our Web Content Management research. Although FatWire claims you can deploy these products independently, I am skeptical of the value proposition of running them independently even if it were possible. Both these products tie into Content Server via FatWire's "WEM" -- not the marketing acronym that is getting popular these days -- but an integration framework the company released sometime back. This framework essentially allows you to create applications on top of Content Server and provides features like single sign-on, unified interface, and a single administration window. Just like Drupal, FatWire wants to target those social use cases that are driven largely by content.

However, don't assume that adding a new product such as Community Server onto your Content Server installation will in itself convert your existing application to a community platform. Technical and functional considerations might require you redesign your application. In our WCM evaluation research we lay out some important architectural options and considerations for managing user-generated content (hint: neither FatWire nor Drupal's approach is ideal).

FatWire's Gadget Server is based on Apache's Shindig project. It allows you to create gadgets based on Google's Open Social standard. Your site visitors then can pick and choose the gadgets they want and personalize their interface. As of now, there are only a few gadgets available out-of-the-box, and the percentage of visitors who will actively modify page functionality or layout tends to be very low.

Perhaps more usefully, the new module now provides an additional delivery channel to FatWire content because you can embed an Open Social gadget on any web page, including those not driven by FatWire, and therefore more easily distribute content.

Nevertheless, you may be disappointed to learn that these gadgets are only for site visitor related functionality and not for editorial functionality, at a time when many competitors are employing gadgets to offer different content contributors the exact functionality they need, in lieu of struggling with one complex interface that everyone uses.

In any case, just like with Community Server, consider architectural implications carefully before deciding whether you want a completely gadget-based front end or a hybrid front end where only some functionality gets driven by gadgets.

Frankly speaking, the new features offered by these products are not very complex to implement. You could always create a new asset type, such as "comment," and associate it with another asset type such as "news" to achieve the desired functionality. In fact, FatWire has been offering a separate Blog module, free of cost, for some time. What's more important in my view is the the new administrative and configuration capabilities to manage these modules from a familiar interface. You can also take advantage of some of Content Server's scalability and integration services with these new products.

Overall, both the new products provide a useful set of features. With Community Server, FatWire is probably playing catch-up, since this functionality has been offered by many other products for some time. With Gadget Server, FatWire becomes one of the very few vendors to offer in-built gadget services that allow you to run third-party Open Social Gadgets on your infrastructure.

We're working on a deeper critique of these two new modules for our regular Web CMS updates to our subscribers.

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