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Mar 16, 2010 2:17 PM

Web 2.0 for the Enterprise

What is Web 2.0?

The term "Web 2.0" was coined in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci in her article "Fragmented Future", the term deals mainly with Web design and aesthetics; she argues that the web is "fragmenting" due to the widespread use of portable Web-based devices. In 2004, the term began its rise in popularity when O'Reilly Media and MediaLive hosted the first Web 2.0 conference. In their opening remarks, John Battelle and Tim O'Reilly outlined their definition of the "Web as Platform", where software applications are built upon the Web instead of the desktop.  "Web 2.0" was defined as Web-based software which is continually and collaboratively updated.  This means that the software gets more useful the more people who consume and remix it. Remixing is a key concept of Web 2.0. In music, remixing means taking established songs and editing them together, potentially adding your own elements as well. With Web 2.0, individual users add their own data and services to collaborative web software, remixing the Web 2.0 sites into increasingly useful tools and creating an exponential growth effect.

 

The unique properties of the web—rolling releases and nearly universal accessibility—gave birth to the Web 2.0 architecture of participation. The web has always been a fertile medium for collaboration but new technologies have increased the possibilities—as well as the complexities. AJAX in particular, is being used to make the web experience faster and richer. This combination of XML and JavaScript frees interaction from slow page refreshes, creating a desktop-like responsiveness, but it also breaks down the simple click-read-click model. Ajax can create a more satisfying user experience by offering drag-and-drop, resizing, and partial-page refreshes, or a significantly worse one as designers struggle to communicate this new behavior to visitors who are used to clicking, not dragging.

 

Ruby on Rails is another groundbreaking technology. A combination of an elegant programming language and a framework for speeding development of web applications, Ruby on Rails is allowing dozens of tiny start-ups to create potential businesses overnight. Those web applications, from blogging tools to photo galleries to wikis, are turning site visitors into site participants. Ruby is an remarkably clear language, readable by designers as well as programmers, and Rails has many best practices built into the framework, so that these new applications are more accessible and usable than ever. Meanwhile RSS and APIs are freeing data from presentation on sites all over the web, making it easier than ever to get information the way you want it, or to remix it with other websites’ data into something new and exciting.

 

It’s a mistake to think Web 2.0 is all about the technology, but it’s also a mistake to dismiss the technology. The architecture of participation is baked into the architecture of the software. Web 2.0 lets you share and incorporate multiple voices— your customers, your service reps, your employees—who quickly take the product, service, or idea in a direction that you could not alone. Often the technology will let you behave no other way.

 

It seems most important aspect of Web 2.0 is the values it espouses. Web 2.0 purports to be collaborative, participatory, simple, accessible, efficient, lightweight, approachable, action-oriented, and user-driven. These values are found in companies like Google, Yahoo!, Netflix, Flickr, Technorati, Skype, and eBay. When you think about Web 2.0, first think about the values before you think about potential applications of the technology. The technology is nifty; the values are competitive.

 

What does it mean for the enterprise?
So far, other than the new technologies associated with Web 2.0, very little of the Web 2.0 advances have been brought to the internal workings of business. At first blush, it appears that the concepts don’t apply to the enterprise. The open, freewheeling discussion of a Digg seems inapproapriate for a corporation. But closer examination reveals some key opportunities.

 

First, Web 2.0 can change the way you reach your customers, build relationships with them, and further your brand objectives. Successful companies are using Web 2.0 concepts to encourage their customers to build communities around their products, provide feedback on products, and, in some cases, even inform strategy. But Web 2.0 concepts are not effective unless you examine how you are connecting with your customers and relinquish the idea you can dictate to them. It takes courage to let go of control, through collaborative design with the customer, or through communication within the enterprise. Rather than “aligning supply chains, communications, marketing initiatives” what if you co-create new supply chain approaches with your suppliers, or what if marketing initiatives come from the customers? While pronouncements and offerings feel safer and more familiar than participation and collaboration, the rewards are higher when you open your processes up to more input.

 

Consider how your enterprise works with its network of partners. Whether it is with suppliers, distribution partners, or service providers, there are opportunities for collaboration. Ask yourself how you develop your go-to-market strategy for new products. How are you involving your business partners? And more specifically, how are you involving the foot soldiers in your partner companies?

 

Web 2.0 audience

What Web 2.0 values should be corporate values? The more collaborative the employees of a company are, the more successful the company becomes over time. Employees that collaborate efficiently by leveraging each other’s intellect and resources create stronger and more successful products. Unfortunately, it is also recognized that current communication and collaboration “solutions” are woefully inadequate. Most software touted to enable collaoration is difficult to use, cumbersome, limiting, and does not empower employees to share their content. Rather than fueling collaboration, they hinder it.

 

Why do these existing approaches fail? They fail because they’re driven by technology requirements rather than by human needs. Because the current crop of tools are built on values of control, containment, and secrecy in environments where employees are encouraged to compete more than collaborate with one another, installing another knowledge managment tool does little to remedy the problem. Until the enterprise is willing to examine its values and its behavior, poor choices in policy and in technology are inevitable.

 

Web 2.0-driven solutions for collaboration are different because the values are baked into the functionality. RSS feeds do not force employees to visit an intranet or website but can bring the information to them in the employee’s choice of format. By allowing anyone in a company to publish RSS feeds, and by letting employees choose which ones to subscribe to with the tools they want, the best feeds rise to the top, employees are better informed, and the employee authors get the recognition they deserve. In this manner, the company itself also learns what’s valuable, instead of telling employees its abstract ideas of what employees should value. Courageous companies could even learn what direction to take the corporate strategy by tapping into the “wisdom of crowds.”

 

Similarly, a company that uses a wiki-based solution for collaboration will have more success than a traditional, highly permission-driven intranet tool. Wikis allow anyone to edit anything, and require no special privileges or knowledge to contribute. They work the way a smart team does, permitting people to riff on each others ideas and expand on each other’s knowledge. Moreover, if wiki authors have a comprehensive profile describing their professional interests, listing their previous posts and their contact information, an atmosphere of trust and familiarity arises, and employees will be more likely to collaborate and share their personal knowledge.

 

In a nutshell, Web 2.0 concepts like wikis and integrated chat can make a big difference in acheiving Web 2.0 values. Companies that are more collaborative, participatory, efficient, user-driven, and action-oriented are recognized as the most successful. IBM, for example, has just launched “Innovation Jams” where thousands of IBM employees are encouraged to participate in virtual chatrooms simultaneously on a given day. IBM hopes to uncover transformative business ideas through these virtual discussions. As discussed in a recent Businesssweek article, IBM CEO J. Palmisano believes that the opinions of 100,000 IBM employees will result in “catalytic innovations” that can lead to new business for IBM.

 

But what can you do today?
It’s all well and good to discuss major shifts in corporate culture, but we all know those take time. What specifically can you do today to understand Web 2.0 better and to learn how to use it in your company to support employees, customers, and partners? Don’t task your information technology department to make every web-based application Web 2.0 ready, or push your product managers to start blogging 25 times a day. Instead, step back and learn more about this space, then think how the underlying concepts can help you improve in small ways. And the easiest way to do that is to look at a few examples currently on the Web.

 

JAGGY recently developed Web 2.0 site for Save US Jobs.org - We Empower Network

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