Community key to businesses' Web 2.0 success

Companies can exploit Web 2.0 to extend their reach, but understanding the technology and building a user community is crucial for success

Having a community is key to the success of any Web 2.0 project, and businesses should decide what they want before jumping on the bandwagon.

Driving home this message were bloggers and industry practitioners at Microsoft's recent Remix web developer conference held in Singapore.

Kevin Lim, a Singaporean blogger based in the US, said that the first thing web start-ups should do is focus on building a community.

"Once they have a community, then they [will] have business propositions [and] opportunities to do different things," he said.

Jennifer Lewis, editor of Stomp (Straits Times Online Mobile Print), the online portal of Singapore newspaper The Straits Times, said that "it is mandatory [and] it's the heart of everything we do".

"[For instance], every new feature that we introduce to Stomp has to be something the community wants," she noted.

Lucian Teo of the WebSG blog agreed, but offered a slightly different perspective.

"I think we [can] substitute the word 'community' with 'users'," Teo said. "If you have no users, you have no business. If you have users, you have a community."

Defining Web 2.0 for business
While Web 2.0 may mean different things to different people, some common threads run through.

"In many ways, everyone's definition of Web 2.0 is the definition of Web 2.0. It's a social phenomena [and also] a technology phenomena," said Dilip Mistry, general manager of developer and platform evangelism for Microsoft Asia-Pacific, noting that, at the end of the day, most customers want to know what Web 2.0 is, what it means to them and what is the business value for doing it.

"The web is becoming, for many people, the primary vehicle [by] which they interact with their customers," said Brian Goldfarb, group product manager of UX platform and tools strategy at Microsoft.

Web 2.0, he added, is an "interesting misnomer [that] categorises a significant amount of change in the industry all at once, [such as] the user-experience revolution and the way customers interact".

Small- and mid-sized businesses are warming up to Web 2.0, according to Goldfarb. "Particularly the brick-and-mortar [businesses]; we're seeing this huge change in the e-commerce space, [where they are] moving from single-channel commerce to multi-channel commerce," he said.

Web 2.0 has, therefore, become "an enabler for these smaller businesses to extend their reach, because now, instead of just having one physical presence, they can extend to using multi-channel [commerce], through television [or] the media centre", Goldfarb added.

According to Mistry, video content is one area in Web 2.0 that is getting a lot of attention, as an increasing number of businesses are starting to use video for communication and training.

Research house Gartner has advised companies to leverage on Web 2.0 technology to expand their brands and revenues, but they need to have a good understanding of these technologies before they adopt them.

This week, Cisco chief executive John Chambers predicted that consumer-led Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies, such as social networking, wikis and videoconferencing, will drive a second internet boom, that will span the next decade.