Fighting the Web 2.0 War?
I’ve met with so many people asking me what it was like rolling out Web 2.0 capabilities across one’s enterprise that I feel compelled to put together this post to outline what I have learned doing it and personal myths I debunked going forward. The title of the post is self-confessedly provocative, although it may in my opinion only reflect how much day-to-day effort it’s going to take you to get your enterprise practicing the Web 2.0 approach that salespersons fob onto just anyone these days – it’s even getting to be a brazen hard-sell.
From Web 2.0 through Enterprise 2.0 to Web 3.0
I start from the assumption that most readers of the present blog will already be familiar with these concepts, but there’s no harm done in getting out of the way the obvious stuff to prevent later confusion.
Web 2.0 was originally coined by the good people at O’Reilly Media, an American publisher of books on computing from Python through XML to Linux. More specifically, Tim O’Reilly, one of the two founders of the company, originally used the phrase in connection with those online enterprises such as Amazon that had weathered the dot-com bubble that burst circa 2001.
What was so special about them was that their business model relied on being influenced by their customers and favored their active, freely-offered participation as in the case of Wikipedia, Flickr and Delicious for instance. Most of them relied less heavily or at least conspicuously on ad placement.
Most of the characteristics refer to functionality/activities, when I believe that Web 2.0 has progressively come to stand for tools used to carry out these activities online. Namely: blogs, microblogging, wikis, networking and sharing services (bookmarking & tagging).
Coined by Andrew McAfee principal research scientist at MIT‘s Center for Digital Business circa 2006, Enterprise 2.0 refers o the use of Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise setting. Namely: blogs, microblogging, wikis, networking and sharing services. Namely: blogs, microblogging, wikis, networking and sharing services (bookmarking & tagging).
As opposed to what I hear a lot of people say, Web 3.0 is no Web 2.0 evolving into some higher form. Web 3.0 is a technical approach to managing the wealth of data on the Web/ the so-called “info-glut.” Its main goal is to relieve humans of the chore of making connections between items of information. For instance, the burden is on you these days — although it’s getting better — to secure train schedules and available hotel rooms where you’ll be going weather permitting — to establish these two connections, by going to several sites.
The vision behind Web 3.0 is to have computer agents connect those tedious dots. Ideally, they could make datasets — websites, pictures, tables, files, etc. — interoperable, i.e. make it possible for agents to query all such datasets and weave (semantic) connections between and among them, regardless of how these datasets were originally encoded, whatever metadata schemas were brought into play or whatever software is meant to open them.
Programs can and will connect those dots only if they can be instructed on how to do so through human modeling of knowledge areas — the tangible human end product being ontologies. Linked Data is a global endeavor/ methodology to achieve just that, one of the most remarkable achievements of which being DBpedia.
For more background on Web 3.0, consider the 2006 article by Victoria Shannon for the New York Times here. For a concrete example of what can be achieved with interoperable datasets, review FAO‘s Agris. The work FAO has put in is simply breathtaking. For more information on ontologies, consider my post here.
What’s All the Clamoring About?
The present post being only an opinion piece, I’ll opine that a couple of assumptions are made that never get voiced and that when carried over suggest possible analog avenues for streamlining the way knowledge flows in the enterprise setting. The first list below recaps assumptions about Web 2.0; the second, explicitly spells out parallel statements for Enterprise 2.0. The numbering scheme is consistent in both list, i.e. 1 corresponds to 1.
- Everybody contributes to Web 2.0
- Everybody contributes free of charge for the interest of the greatest number
- The greatest number benefits from the knowledge captured in Web 2.0 applications/ services
- Everybody finds it easy to contribute something albeit minor edits
- There are so many creative people in Web 2.0 that if only one could harness their collective intelligence any problem would be solved
- Though there is no real supervision of how Web 2.0 grows exponentially, everybody does a great job of organizing themselves
- The dash of Web 2.0 practitioners is attractive and desirable
This rose-tinted understanding of Web 2.0 is applied to the enterprise setting:
- Everybody in th enterprise will participate in Enterprise 2.0
- Everybody contributes for the interest of the greatest number with no regard to the time they invest — they may even invest their own spare time
- The greatest number benefits from the knowledge captured in Enterprise 2.0 applications/ services
- Everybody finds it easy to contribute something albeit minor edits
- There are so many creative people in the enterprise that if only one could harness their collective intelligence any problem would be solved
- There is no real supervision of how Web 2.0 grows exponentially, and the same should be true of Enterprise 2.0 if the enterprise is to observe the essence of Web 2.0 is about. Everybody in the enterprise could probably do a great job of organizing themselves
- Enterprise 2.0 sounds like a modern way of developing the employee
Reality 2.0 Bites
On the face of those statements, one immediately sees that the reality behind the smokescreen of a whole segment of the software industry may assume a quite different shape. Believe me, it is simply not true that everybody will be interested in Enterprise 2.0. Some will take exception to yet another piece of software being forced onto them — software fatigue, it is called. I do not intend to make use of of a very trite idea which goes something like “knowledge is power,” because that cliché is nonsensical (understanding how to apply knowledge is the real power, although one would have to specify the kind of power one is talking about). But basically, knowledge retention is a given in whatever context. Enterprise 2.0 will not solve the age-old problem. Only those who share will share; it is quite easy to dissemble in that environment too, by simply mot participating. It is simply not reasonable to think that you might fight that mindset off.
Also, although your company will first be allured to the idea of leveraging 1-7 as laid out above, it may get cold feet sooner than you’d expect when the degree of decentralization (i.e. who get to say what in the enterprise setting) Enterprise 2.0 implies to catch on at all comes home.
A rule of thumb you can take away from this post right now is that the nitty-gritty of Enterprise 2.0 implementation gets overlooked all the time and that what it entails in terms of slight power shift (i.e. who get to say what in the enterprise setting) is not well-known, little understood and generally blown out of proportion when hit on by employers or consultants.
The Plot Thickens
When you first set out to implement an Enterprise 2.0 environment, you naturally turn to the literature to glean tips and tricks. If you’d ask me for only one book that says it all and offers clear explanations and actionable advice, I would refer you without hesitation to Wikipatterns and its companion site. It is home to a community of users of the Confluence suite that I would recommend for ease of use and great looks. More about usability in a later section.
Unfortunately, actionable tips and tricks are few and far between and tend to be not very helpful — generally speaking, you’ll end up collecting the same run-of-the-mill rehash of how important it is to meet your customers’ needs. Which means little as obviously you do things for a reason if you’re in your right mind. I have already had the opportunity of looking at that issue: please consider my post on the elusive internal customer.
What I really wanted help on when I first envisioned rolling out Enterprise 2.0 was a clear-cut answers to the following questions:
- How do go get your project off the ground?
- How do you make sure that it stays the course you set initially?
- How do you get from stage A to B to C and so forth?
- Whom do you work with?
- What Enterprise 2.0 suite should you go for?
- What are the guidelines for usage of Enterprise 2.0?
- How do you ward off unhelpful attitudes and what do you make of them?
I’ll be giving straightforward answers in the rest of the post. I’ll start answering the last one as attitudes put me off my game many times until I was familiar enough with them that I could brush them off easily without frustrating the individual giving attitude.
The funniest story that comes to my mind is a two-episode account I wouldn’t believe if I didn’t actually live it. Blogs and wikis get everybody so excited — please remember these analogues — that they’ll let you know really soon they just want in. That happened to me. I’d anxiously imagined that people would never be won over to spending some of their time going Enterprise 2.0, but they almost begged to join. Wow, I thought: minimal support to be drumming up for.
When it came to brass tacks, attitudes changed significantly. Those early adopters would come up with questions that testified to such a disconnect from the enthusiasm and good will they initially offered that I came home scratching my head trying to unpack a line I was left to struggle with, “all right.” “You want my help running that thing [the Enterprise 2.0 tool suite]. Sure…I told you I would. But can you convince me now why I should? What’s in it for me?” Take that.
It’s called getting cold feet. But I didn’t take it that way. I was just confused. And then it dawned on me that I would probably have reacted in a similar way.
Coming home, I sat to my computer and bumped into a new bookmark sharing site. Looked nice, promised to do things the others hadn’t hit on. Registered. Toyed with it. Started thinking: why on earth did I register? What’s in it for me? Maybe I should rethink filling in my details. Typical case of the kettle calling the plot back, uh?
It’s alright then to act on impulse because of what potential you think something holds and then to step back. In the enterprise setting it makes even more sense.
Long story short: giving some background and explaining away unreasonable fears, I finally won over my initial early adopter. I had surely met with some more resistance that would not let up until I proved it wrong.
Some usual questions will crop up and you’ll have to meet them head on.
- “What if everybody in the enterprise start badmouthing everybody else?” That’s unlikely. Those so inclined have just found themselves a new way of getting themselves fired.
- “What if anybody says something that is not true, right or correct in the wiki, blog and so on?” Well, what’ s stopping them now?
- “What if anybody lifts off content and pass it off as their own?” Well, what’ s stopping them now?
- “What if anybody leaks company info?” Well, what’ s stopping them now?
- “Am I responsible for what I commit to the wiki or blog?” Well, aren’t you always for whatever you do in your enterprise?
- “Who can vouch for the quality of what I submit?” YOU are. (You cannot be too emphatic here.)
- “What if I can’t submit anything?” Not a problem, you’re not required to.
If addressed correctly and head-on those questions will go away, believe me. The only issue anybody really has with Enterprise 2.0 is that everybody’s looking. Ah. The Eye of the Beholder. I called it community controlled and it went down smoothly.