Web 2.0 – Scary technology? 1

Some of the inspiration behind this blog-post came from this post on www.technewsworld.com.

The reason why I write about this here is that it seems that he and I have experienced some of the same challenges. These issues are also present for all other network based solutions that people like me suggests would “solve” all the world’s problems. If perhaps not expressed as clearly as by the author of that article, some of the risks have to be addressed by all internet-consultants when we propose a new solution.

The problem we see here is based on several conflicting needs felt by the users. In order to explain these issues I need to step back and explain the basic ideas behind internet based solutions.
We have for several years talked about portals and web-servers. These are products we so far have been using to spread information and make it easier for all to find the information they need. With every new version of these products we have seen new features and more interaction between all the parties involved. This development has not stopped and these products will continue to evolve into new and hopefully better solutions. (If nothing else, these products will have even more features). Now the “Web 2.0” era has entered the marketplace. Sites like www.digg.com and www.wikipedia .org has showed us that user-generated content is possible and that it doesn’t have to be of poor quality. Other sites have, by creating social networks or applications, shown that whole internet communities can appear in a relatively short time. In Norway one of the more recent examples would be www.facebook.com, but there are other examples (www.linkedin.com, www.myspace.com, blink.dagbladet.no).

Already with the first iterations of web-sites we experienced some of the side-effects of our new technology. Information we wanted to be available to only some people wasn’t always as secure as we thought. Products that seemed secure suddenly had weaknesses, and the greatest strengths of the internet also proved to be some of its greatest weaknesses – openness and availability.

By utilising web 2.0 principals our web solutions are now a lot more interactive and instead of having only readers we are having users and participants. We’ve got “sticky sites” that users return to every day or several times a day. Our solutions have evolved into communities and social networks. This is also visible inside corporations. By creating Wikis, blogs and discussion forums companies might utilise their employees’ social behaviour in order to increase the corporate knowledge and reduce educational costs. It is important to note that none of these applications are new. Some of them have existed for decades. It is the widespread utilisation of applications like this that is new.

So now we can address the problem expressed in the start of this post a bit further. Instead of being considered strengths openness and availability might be considered to be quite large risks. The complexity of these issues have grown even more than the complexity of the solutions we have created. Information is available everywhere, but should that information really be available. Many companies or organisations have experienced already that employees have been giving away more information than what is prudent. In Norway, media has discussed people’s behaviour on Facebook by reporting on politicians complaining about boring meetings and government personnel giving away government secrets by telling too much about what they do.

These concerns are quite real and companies are correct to be careful. The issue here is probably to correctly educate the users on what to do instead of prohibiting everything. My task as a consultant is to acknowledge these risks for what they are and address them in a serious and constructive manner. The “new” tools we have at our disposal can be a great benefit for most companies, both internally and externally so I recommend that you do not ignore all tools just because you might experience some drawbacks. Use them, but use them correctly. And even more important: Use you employees and your partners correctly.

To illustrate that, I would like to point to a post on www.socialcomputingjournal.com by R. Todd Stephens. There he lists fifteen possible uses of a corporate Wiki and fifteen possible uses of a corporate blog.


    Fifteen Uses of a Corporate Wiki

    1. Collecting Business and Technical Requirements
    2. Corporate Dictionary
    3. Meeting Agendas, Notes, Attendees, and Attachments
    4. Organizational and Professional Biography
    5. Status Reporting (Project, Personal, Program, Departmental)
    6. Release Notes and Issue Tracking
    7. Product and Service Documentation
    8. User Manuals, Guides, and Best Bets (Tips)
    9. Policies and Procedures
    10. Brainstorming, Innovation and Patent Processing (Many Eyes)
    11. Intranet Replacement
    12. Metrics Reporting
    13. Along with RSS, notification of upcoming Events or Announcements
    14. Error Reporting, Tracking, and Resolution
    15. Locating Like Minded or SME within the Enterprise

    Fifteen Uses of a Corporate Blog

    1. Executive Communications
    2. Project Status Reporting
    3. Sharing Knowledge and Professional Expertise
    4. Gathering Collective Intelligence (Marketing Campaign)
    5. Sharing Experiences; Vendor, Partner, or Product
    6. Organizational Announcements and Upcoming Events
    7. Sharing External Research or Information (i.e. Great Blogs)
    8. Connecting the Enterprise Knowledge (RSS, Trackbacks, Bookmarking)
    9. Newsletters (May should have included that in the Wiki as well)
    10. Collecting Feedback from Townhalls, Meetings, or Off Site Sessions
    11. Archiving Lessons Learned
    12. Spreading Enthusiasm and Generating Buzz
    13. Establishing Though Leadership and Professional Brand
    14. Drive Traffic to an Internal Service like Collaboration Services
    15. Demonstrating a Code of Ethic or Corporate Policy (Don’t Just Tell, Show)

Some of these uses have been solved with other tools and technologies before, and I am not sure if I agree with all the uses Stephens suggests. There may be other tools that are better suited for some of these tasks, but as a starting point I recommend that you try out some of these ideas.

As a final word, and something we have seen elsewhere: The fear of a threat can sometimes be more harmful than the threat itself.

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