Engineering both the front- and back-end

I had the pleasure of edging Bob Glushko a couple of weeks ago, and finally had a chance to dig into a couple of papers if his (as well as scan his book Document Engineering). He’s definitely one that you would call ‘wicked’ smart, having built several companies and now having sold one, he’s only hanging around doing cutting edge information science because he wants to.

The core of what he’s on about is structuring data, as documents, to facilitate transactions that for the basis of services. He focuses on the term ‘document’ rather than data to help emphasize the variety of forms in which they manifest, the human component, and most of all the nature of combining data to facilitate business interactions. At the heart is something I’ve been excited about, what I call content models, but he takes much further to support a more generic and comprehensive capability.

He makes a useful distinction between ‘front-end’ and ‘back-end’ services to help highlight the need to take the total service-delivery system into account. The front end provides the customer-facing experience, while the back end ensures efficiency and scalability. It can be difficult to reconcile these two, and yet both are necessary.

This is important in learning experience design as well. Having served on either side, both, and as the mediator between, I know the tension that can result from the caring designer crossing swords with the focused developer.

I have talked before about the potential of web 3.0, system-generated content, and that’s what this approach really enables. Yes, there are necessary efficiencies and effectiveness enough to justify this approach in your learning experience system design, but the potential for smart adaptive experiences is the new opportunity.

If you’re building more than just content, but also delivery systems and business engines, you owe it to yourself to get into Document Engineering. If you’re going further (and you should), you really need to get into the whole services and information science area.

There are exciting advancements in technologies, going beyond just XML to learning focused structures on top, and solid concept engineering behind these that are the key to the next generation of learning systems (and, of course, more).

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