Don't get me wrong. I love java.sun.com and rarely visit it without learning something new. However, as one API after another has extended the Java standard, there has been something missing. Sun has for a long time understood the roles that both community and open-source development play in leveraging the popularity and effectiveness of the Java language as an industry standard. The Java Community Process (JCP) was Sun's first attempt at collaboration between itself and industry heavyweights as a way to steer the Java standard. JCP has evolved and adapted to the ever-changing needs of the development community and has had a number of successes. But JCP, although it attempts to be lightweight, can be cumbersome. Developers, not just industry heavyweights, need a community where they can collaborate and share the latest and greatest that open source has to offer without all the hoops required by JCP. Sun rose to the challenge of creating a lighter-weight open source-based development environment, and java.net was born.
The java.net Web site was designed to support a community where open-source development can be nurtured, without imposing too much overhead. The goal for Sun is to accelerate open-source development and pull in developers who probably would have shied away from the more cumbersome JCP projects.
Like most developers who work on open-source projects, I enjoy writing code. The appeal of working on open-source projects is the freedom to do things the right way and to work on something that seems particularly interesting. Most developers don't get to pick what they work on every day, and the schedules and deadlines can take the joy out of coding. In many ways, open-source development is a creative outlet, a way of escaping the timelines and specifications of our day jobs and making programming fun again. For the casual open-source developer, the problem with the JCP process is that it can make a project feel like you are still at work. So, for the open-source developer, there are two advantages to working on projects at java.net. First, some of the premier open-source projects, such as JAX-RPC, have been moved to java.net. Second, by being hosted at java.net, lower-profile projects get visibility and legitimacy that they might not have received elsewhere.
Sun first announced java.net back in June at the annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco. Since then, the site seems to have really taken off. One of the reasons for java.net's success is that Sun has embraced both traditional and emerging forms of community communication. On the traditional side, there are the usual mailing lists and forums. The signal-to-noise ratio varies widely depending on the group, but they are still great resources for niche information. On the more cutting-edge side of things, java.net offers both weblogs and Wiki.
No, weblogs are not the enormous access log files generated by your Apache Web server. Weblogs, or "blogs" as they are commonly referred to, are collections of URLs with commentary. There are personal blogs that are a sort of online, public journal. There are also travel blogs, which are personal blogs in which the writer, known as a blogger, provides a running chronicle of a trip. Still other blogs are topical or project-related. These blogs contain links to other relevant URLs, with commentary on what is at the other end of the link.
Two things make blogs a powerful source of information. First, blogs concentrate information into one place, give you a quick feel for a topic, and guide you in the right direction when you want to go deeper. Second, it is the nature of blogs to be easily updated, so they are very dynamic. A good blog is not just up-to-date; it is up to the minute.
At java.net, you'll find two types of blogs. There are project blogs, which give status and updates on a particular project. These are great places to find out what's going on with a particular topic. There are also personal blogs. My favorite is that of James Gosling, the original creator of Java. Along with his vacation photos and sometimes offbeat side trips, you can find many gems of wisdom and thought-provoking ideas. Remember that java.net is a community, and a community needs both leaders and connections. Blogs are a good way of building both.
Think of Wiki as a big Internet white board that anybody add to or edit via a link at the bottom of the page. This is all accomplished through a Wiki markup language. The central theme is that anybody at any time can make edits, in most cases without any review process at all. The incredible advantage is obviously that Wiki pages are very up-to-date. The disadvantage, of course, is that anybody can edit the page. Different levels of protection, such as logins and account validation, are sometimes required, but in most cases, Wikis are wide open. However, most Wikis also come with versioning tools that make it easy to roll back unwanted changes. As long as removing unwanted changes is easier than making the changes in the first place, things usually stay under control. The analogy I usually use is this: What if you had a big white wall near a freeway that taggers liked to spray paint? Then, what if you could press a button at dawn each day and the wall would be repainted before anybody saw it? It might get tagged every now and then, but eventually the taggers would give up or move to a less-protected area.
Although I refer to Wiki as an emerging technology, it has been around for quite some time. But, like blogging, Wiki has gotten more popular lately partly because of the number of easy-to-use tools, called Wiki engines, that help you set up and maintain Wiki sites. The best example of a Wiki site is probably the Wikipedia. The Wikipedia is a self-proclaimed "free encyclopedia" that contains a wealth of knowledge on just about any topic that you can think of. In fact, according to the Wikipedia, the name Wiki itself is derived from the Hawaiian word "wiki wiki," which means fast. Also, java.net has its own javapedia, which I have found to be very helpful. Anybody can read the javapedia, but in order to make edits, you have to be a registered user. This helps prevent the tagger scenario described above as well situations called "edit wars" in which two users who disagree keep undoing each other's edits.
The Future of java.net
I have a very positive outlook on java.net. Sun has clearly seen the need to build an open-source, community-based Web site. I still see JCP staying around because it clearly has a role in defining the core Java APIs, but java.net will be a great lever to apply against emerging technologies without the overhead of JCP. I think java.net will also attract many open-source developers who enjoy the notoriety of working on premier projects. Key to the success of java.net will also be the use of both tried and true technologies like mailing lists and forums as well as the emerging, collaborative, community-based technologies like weblogs and Wiki.