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Web 2.0, Fad or Future?

Web 2.0 is all about making personal connections directly and immediately. More and more I hear about how blogs, wikis, and social networking sites are changing the way we live and play. Clearly teens and above have started to use sites like Facebook and MySpace in ways that have changed social interaction but I’m not so certain the new technologies have made us more productive in the workplace. Sure, Linkedin has allowed people to manage their professional contact list and have insight into a larger personal network, but has Web 2.0 delivered the productivity gains that collaboration promises? The Web is supposed to be a new environment that not only makes it easier for people to connect with others with mutual interests but will provide a vehicle for open public dialog. How is this applicable in the workplace?

What attracts consumers to Web 2.0 implementations is the immediate and direct communications. We’ve gotten fed up with long telephone hold messages and automatic call routing systems that demand we “press 1 if you want to connect to place an order.” We want contact with a real person, and the right person. Websites now boast features that allow customers “live chat with an agent”. This type of feature clearly provides the business benefits worth investing in. But, what about corporate blogs? The new technologies have set an expectation for unvarnished communications directly with specific people, not just corporate talking heads. Response to comments or content is expected quickly and from the right person, not their staff. Readership of these blogs are voluntary, even internal corporate blogs, so the content better be fresh, honest, and compelling.

At an organizational offsite I attended, I started to count the number of times I heard suggestions to implement a new wiki. I stopped at 30. People talked about how this direct online collaboration will encourage greater participation across geographies. They were genuinely excited about drawing people into projects that they believed needed to participate. The one thing that kept sticking in the back of my mind was, why weren’t those people contributing today? With our inexpensive telephone systems, email, and videoconferences, people weren’t engaging on projects so there had to be something more. The medium for interaction will not compel participation, it must be the goals or ideas. What the folks at the offsite were missing is that they hadn’t found a way to communicate the importance of their projects. Even in the corporate world, many project participants are self selected.

Web 2.0 tools are fantastic communication methods that can help accelerate collaboration. However, tools do not replace ideas. People’s interests are captured when exciting ideas or relevant problems are identified. When people are compelled by something they enthusiastically engage to work through problems. The real priority for productivity is to crisply articulate problems, goals, and relevancy. Web 2.0 tools aren’t a goal unto themselves, but a vehicle for communication. Don’t ever forget that we’re payed money to either increase revenue or decrease costs. If the tools don’t helps us do those then we’re doing something wrong.


4 comments to Web 2.0, Fad or Future?

  • Martin Hardee

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Web 2.0 technologies can facilitate collaboration (especially asynchronous collaboration that’s hard across time zones) but an important prerequisite is for a culture of collaboration to exist in the first place!

  • JB

    “Web 2.0 tools aren’t a goal unto themselves, but a vehicle for communication.”

    Amen!! Too many folks are seeking to use these tools simply to appear “hip” to the latest technology. We need to normalize the etiquette that no new wiki can be made unless it consolidates 2 or more present wikis/webpages.

    Now, that said, I must confess of all the web 2.0 technologies, wikis are the best example of a technology that should/could enhance productivity given the proper environment and business problem you are trying to address.

    As a side note I wonder how long it will take until Web 3.0 catches on as a buzzword. 😉

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_3#Innovations_associated_with_.22Web_3.0.22

  • Phillip

    Too many people see Web 2.0 as a “build it and they will come” proposition. You cannot will a community of interest into existence. I see a lot of disparate Web 2.0 communities formed with only the interests of the community creator in mind. The resulting Web 2.0 architectures are akin to Panelák or Pruitt-Igoe. People will simply not inhabit such communities except by force or desperation.

    I argue that you have to “pay” contributors to your Web 2.0 infrastructure. This remuneration is not settled in currency, but in knowledge and exhangce of valuable experiences. Unless your Web 2.0 community has something that makes it attractive to visitors (and contributors), it will languish. Architecting a “web 2.0” site has a lot in common with Urban Planning. It is damn easy to put up a building. It is a whole other matter to have people interested in living there.

    As a vehicle for exchanging and developing new ideas, I don’t really think Web 2.0 is well suited to that. You can do documentation, problem solving, and idea collection around a fixed topic, but I don’t really think Web 2.0 is a good medium for brainstorming and idea nurturing complex ideas; I still see this as the realm of real-time (possibly facilitated) discussions. There’s a reason airlines are still in business.

  • Jashoda

    I wish we had fewer and simpler tools for communication. Why is it that all tools today promise to offer all features (e.g. a cell phone is now a PDA, a camera, a GPS and oh yes a phone)? It is frustrating to see Wikis crop up everywhere like weeds because very few authors/owners actually keep them updated. We have run into this situation where folks who were previously communicating just fine (by selecting the most appropriate medium for each audience segment) are now jumping onto the band wagon of having a Wiki too! So far I think this is a fad (or maybe not if you are a teenager and that is your primary way to reach out to your peers)!

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