If you go to Wikipedia this afternoon and try to pull up the entry for Enterprise 2.0, you won't find it there any longer. Readers of this blog are familiar with my writings about this emerging concept in the IT and business space that has been topic of much discussion of late. My point here however is not to go into the details of how and why this term is effectively censored by Wikipedia, at least for the moment; folks like Jason Wood and Jerry Bowles have already done a creditable job. However, the deletion of the entry does highlight a critical issue with the use of Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise space (aka Enterprise 2.0):
If anyone in an enterprise can generate content visible and consumable by the rest of the enterprise, can it be policed in a constructive way without discouraging its very creation?
Censorship is a strong word, yet the removal of online information from public view is something that every organization that allows ideas to appear unedited in the open, however briefly, will eventually be forced to do. There is simply certain content that cannot be permitted in certain situations. Though the open, egalitarian, self-service approach to content creation and distribution that is represented by the "2.0" generation of everything (useful coverage of some other uses of the 2.0 suffix here and here) is a terrific default stance, there sometimes comes specific abuses of these technologies that must be dealt with, often by removing the offending content. Note: I'm speaking in generalities here now -- and not about the Wikipedia incident -- that there is very occasionally good reason for the removal of user contributed content.
The fact is, things like blogs and wikis make it easy to share information businesses sometimes would rather not have easily accessible. Shared information on an Intranet can vary from information that is merely inaccurate all the way up to the inappropriate sharing of trade secrets, private employee information, and outright illegal content. Businesses entertaining Web 2.0 in the enterprise clearly must ask themselves if the risk of low-barrier, open information sharing is actually outweighed by the benefits.
Why is Web 2.0 interesting in the enterprise?
One of the big attractions of things like Enterprise 2.0 is that it articulates the potential of using Web 2.0 techniques behind (and across) the firewall for greatly improved capture and sharing of organizational knowledge. Retention and use of the volumes of insight, facts, solutions to common problems, and other tacit experience that is normally lost when an employee leaves or changes positions is one major benefit. And not only is Web 2.0-style information capture encouraged with Enterprise 2.0, but the application of enterprise search to relentlessly find it again. This is a model that Google and others have showed us works so well on the Web by using a hyperlinked information architecture to rank and locate what we need amongst vast, endless tracts of digital information. In fact, Enterprise 2.0 in general describes the liberation of often previously inaccessible corporate information to be opened up to general discoverability, consumption, and reuse using a Web-based model
And it's not just employee experience that's more usable with Enterprise 2.0 either. Business information that would otherwise be hoarded en masse within Microsoft Office documents of every description, e-mails, and data files stored privately in user's computers, accounts, and home directories -- thereby severely curtailing its utility to the rest of the organization -- can and often should be easily opened up and shared. And yes, there have been remedies for this problem before for sure, but with relatively low levels of success according to many business users. Many -- perhaps even most -- users today still avoid knowledge management systems with their rigid organization, complex features, and often surprisingly low accessibility.
The Web as the mirror of possibility
But, as those following Enterprise 2.0 would point out, credible case studies documenting the effectiveness of Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise are still in scant supply. Yet considerable interest still exists because of the stories pouring off the Web about the efficacy of the two-way Web, aka Web 2.0. Everything from last year's fascinating PeopleFinder project to the stunning growth of user generated content wunderkinds MySpace and YouTube, never mind the rise of the blogosphere. I myself am greatly encouraged by the amount of blog content that is increasingly moving to the top of Google's search indexes for a given search term. The creation of similar success stories in the enterprise is a large part of the reason it's an increasingly popular topic in IT circles.
However, as we're often reminded by stories such as Wikipedia's increasing move into the bureaucratic world of central editorship, there must be some way of maintaining control of our people-powered systems without also losing the very potencies and creativity that's evident in the fresh, innovative content flowing in from the edge of our networks. I often talk about how adding "enterprise context" to Web 2.0 software -- for example, through the use of manual and automated moderating techniques -- might suddenly "fix" most of these problems. But these are also capabilities not yet built into most of our enterprise blog and wiki software, nor is there experience in applying it effectively. The thrust is, we have a long way to go before we understand how to best apply Web 2.0 to the enterprise. But this and other forms of effective application of Web 2.0 techniques must also be discovered as well, or newer business models based on the Web may forever pull ahead of traditional organizations in terms of their ability to provide the most relevant and important source of content, knowledge, and services.
Read a great piece by Jerry Bowles on the Top 10 Management Fears of Enterprise Web 2.0
So, while I have little doubt that Enterprise 2.0 will eventually end up back on Wikipedia, this episode gives us a good sample of what the users of enterprise IT systems with an Enterprise 2.0 bent will feel when their blogs, wikis, and other two-way applications are redacted without a seemingly appropriate reason. And let's not forget that the real trend in all of this is likely an larger one that is represented by the move from push-based systems of control to pull-based systems of control. One implication of this is that the freedom and potential of these new models for business and IT is a real threat to those in charge of the old models. And while neither model in its pure form will likely provide the ideal results, a workable hybrid that delivers the goods is the likely outcome.
What concerns does your organization have about the application of Web 2.0 on your intranet?