Web 2.0: people who need people

Do we really need something like MySpace or YouTube on the corporate network

With all the hype surrounding Web 2.0 technologies, serious IT organizations may be tempted to dismiss them as just more consumer-oriented fads. After all, do we really need something like MySpace or YouTube on the corporate network?

Don't dismiss Web 2.0 so quickly. The concept of bottom-up interaction, collaboration and communication within and across an enterprise promises leaps in productivity and other benefits at very little cost.

The caveat for IT is to make sure Web 2.0 is adopted proactively and openly. It should be deployed where it makes the most sense and delivers the most benefits, and where the overall risk is minimal.

The hardest part about Web 2.0 may be defining it, says David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.

"Instead, people talk about the technologies, like wikis or blogs, or its social or collaborative aspects."

Fred Killeen, CTO at General Motors' Information Systems and Service Group in Detroit, agrees. "In Web 2.0, we think of it as a variety of technologies -- so blogs, wikis, AJAX, RSS and some of the other collaboration capabilities fit in there," he says. "It changes how people use the Web."

What's much clearer is the promise of Web 2.0 in a business scenario. "Overall, as a concept, we absolutely say there's a place for Web 2.0 in the enterprise," Killeen says. "The technologies are simple and lightweight, and that's what works for people. It changes the model of the Web from people interacting with brochures or ordering things, to people interacting with people. For a global organization like GM, that's extremely useful and important."

For example, Killeen recently had a request to use wiki technology to build GM's user manuals. "Who knows how to use the system better than the users?" he asks. "We may have to start them out, but then we should let them help write and build the user manual over time. Because they are the ones who are using it, the overall results will be better."

There are caveats, however. "You need to keep an eye on it," Killeen says. "On the one hand, you want to empower people to collaborate without a lot of inhibitors, but at the same time, if you don't manage all the data and infrastructure, you'll end up with chaos if you're not careful."

Cummings is a freelance writer in Massachusetts. She can be reached at jocummings@comcast.net.

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