Web 2.0, Sea Changes and the Enterprise

Wikis, blogs, podcasts, RSS filters, mash-ups, crowdsourcing, and SOA: is it all just hype, or – gulp – is Web 3.0 almost here?
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Well, it’s all the rage. Publications like Business 2.0, Fast Company and even Business Week are all writing about Web 2.0, the new Net and the next digital gold rush. What the hell is going on now? Is this another bubble? Will Web 2.0 companies crash and burn like their parents?

I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple of years and really wanted to stay almost neutral on the rise of wikis, blogs, podcasts, RSS filters, mash-ups, crowdsourcing, service-oriented architecture and the impact they would have on us all, especially the enterprise. Initially I thought that these technologies were destined to support social networking in all its glory. But after thinking about it some more I realized that important changes were occurring, changes that would impact the entire computing and communications spectrum.

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I hate to say this. I was in the very heart of the dot.com bubble when I guided Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. into one Internet investment after another. We took lots of companies public in those days. Only a few survived. Many of the companies in the Safeguard family crashed and burned and lots of good people suffered. Is anything that different now? I find myself muttering phrases like “sea change,” “game over,” and “killer apps” way too often. I really thought I was cured.

So is this a sea change? I am pained to say yes.

Here’s only some of what it all means.

1) Wikis could revolutionize the way that companies document policies, processes and procedures. HR policies, sales manuals, and supply chain management processes can be documented in living wikis that evolve over time from input from in-house and external professionals. Why do we need to hire a consultant to tell us how to sell to our customers when we have countless in-house subject matter experts? There are lots of questions like this that can be at least partially answered in wikis – and let’s not forget how wikis can be used for training.

2) Blogs can be used to vet ideas, strategies, projects and programs. They can – along with wikis – be used for knowledge management. (Do we really need monster applications for knowledge management?) They can also be used as living suggestion boxes and chat rooms designed to allow employees to vent and contribute in attributable and anonymous ways.

3) Podcasts can be used for pre-meetings, in-meetings and post-meetings documentation. Repositories of podcasts can contribute to institutional memory and together comprise a rich audit trail of corporate initiatives and decision-making.

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