Friday, June 10, 2011

Zen: What Is It Most About?

I get asked a lot what Zen is really. Most of its proposed features are listed in this blog's first two articles, Zen: First Principles and Zen Project #1: A Web Site and a New Technology to Help People Scale the Web. But this article is an attempt to describe the bare essence of Zen, once and for all.

Zen is not just a web CMS (web content management system or WCMS). It is not just a web page editor. In fact, those features might not be well supported in Zen for awhile. But Zen is supposed to have a much more powerful underpinning than WCMS or web page editing.

Zen is, basically:
  1. A web application, no more, no less: it requires no plug-ins, no local storage, no web workers, no Flash, no HTML5, nothing that only works in Firefox or Google Chrome, nothing "special." Why? Because Zen is meant to be universal, free of web-browser dependencies. If you walk into a solar-powered Internet cafe in Timbuktu, Zen should just work. The only caveat is that it might not work on Internet Explorer 6. The fancy stuff—the "bells and whistles"—will be added later, as options.
  2. An application wiki, i.e., "an enhanced wiki that gives users the option to do lightweight end-user programming within the wiki and with ease," according to Wikipedia. Zen's wiki-ness will use a GUI and instant feedback—requiring no special steps like saving, compiling, copying, uploading, deploying, running, starting up, or publishing.
  3. A basic WCMS that can place widgets within widgets, to any degree of nesting. It is not just for 2-dimensional layouts.
  4. A creator of web sites that can be completely indexed by Google and other search engines. Although Zen will specialize in creating single-page web sites and web applications, it will create indexable web pages for the components of those sites and applications so that all the content can be found by the search engines. (Index-ability is important to search engine optimization. Update on May 19, 2012: See Google's Making AJAX Applications Crawlable article in their Webmasters guide.)
There are other features inherent in Zen's technology, but its essential and most visible features or characteristics are the ones listed above. Zen will eventually be augmented by "fancy stuff"—most notably, HTML5—but those parts are not its essence. Perhaps a "Zen-Plus" will follow on to Zen to add very powerful features, but for now, Zen's essence is as described above.

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