The top Enterprise Web 2.0 stories of 2007

Over the last year, we have witnessed the continuation of the steady movement of the mostly consumer-driven Web 2.0 phenomenon into the workplace that began as a trickle in 2006.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

Over the last year, we have witnessed the continuation of the steady movement of the mostly consumer-driven Web 2.0 phenomenon into the workplace that began as a trickle in 2006. Blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, social networking, end-user mashups, and even prediction markets saw their largest entry yet into businesses and institutions around the world. The platform wars may start to return in 2008 as Web 2.0 ideas taught companies how to turn an open platform into competitive advantage.The more technical side of Web 2.0 also began to see maturity as businesses started to rethink their service-oriented architectures to be more Web-like and the rich Internet application industry added many major new building blocks and platforms that push the envelope in terms of the kinds of interactive experiences the Web is able to deliver.

Last year's Enterprise Web 2.0 watch phrase of "consumerization of the enterprise" was clearly evident in workplaces large and small this year, yet we also saw significant new shifts in the way we look at online platforms of all kinds to communicate, collaborate, be more productive, and innovate. You may recall that the Web 2.0 mantra of 2004-2006 was often focused on emergent uses of networks to harness collective intelligence and provide next generation user experiences on the Web. And like each successive generation of innovation on the Web and elsewhere, most early attempts to capitalize on these powerful new ideas were relatively unsuccessful, though the success stories (which resulted in half of the top 8 sites in the world at the moment) resulted in both superior products for the Web community to use and useful new techniques we could use to improve our own results.

In 2007, we also witnessed a new pragmatism as the Web 2.0 hype began to die down, the success stories emerged, and the non-so-successful continued to inform the industry with the lessons needed to navigate the rocky shoals of product development on the Web today. We also began to see Enterprise 2.0 make real penetration in business as well as social networking finally get some corporate respect and validation as a functional business tool that can bring tangible benefits to the workplace.

Read here for a recap on what Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 are generally defined as.

2007 was also a year of innovation in the mobile Web space. The iPhone proved that mobile Web devices were still capable of near quantum leaps in improvement and innovation, Twitter demonstrated what was possible in the realm of truly network-oriented social software on mobile devices, and Google dramatically improved their mobile Web applications with innovative capabilities throughout the year, particularly with Google Maps Mobile. However, while the iPhone isn't quite ready for enterprise use yet (though it will likely get their soon), both Twitter and Google Maps Mobile have become poster children for mobile consumer apps that have had successful cross-over to the business world as enormously useful tools in day to day work.

But a contrarian might say that this is not a delivery on the full promise that Web 2.0 and other online trends were hinting at in recent years. Too many business applications still fail to make anything like full use of the inherent power of the network and people connected to it. Most online business applications in the browser (aka Office 2.0) aren't making any real dents in the Microsoft Office/SAP/Oracle hegemony, at least yet. And the really big Web 2.0 stories of 2007 in terms of what was popular was the big trio of YouTube, Facebook, and YouTube, the top three sites that have dominated the Web audience all year long and much of last year in terms of user-powered sites.

However, even though one could make a case that businesses have been leveraging even the most consumer-oriented sites for some commercial uses (at least for marketing, but also even in one case for outsourcing their intranet), the story is -- as it often is when the trends are complicated and intertwined -- a bit more complex. In fact, while many have perceived a recent plateau in Web 2.0, citing the flow of investment dollars, the case can be made that we've actually been in a "rebuilding year" and putting in places the pieces needed to reach to the level.

So my premise is that 2007 was actually quite an influential year in terms of laying down what we'll see happening in terms of the next generation of the Web in 2008 and 2009. Not only are the large Web firms working on comprehensive and often novel industry plays in terms of building new platforms on the next level of the Web application "stack", but the industry itself has been busy noodling its way through a number of important issues, challenges, and innovations with varying degrees of success.

Here is my take on what I think the most significant Enterprise Web 2.0 stories were in 2007:

  1. The foundations for a real Global SOA were finally laid. We've had open APIs and commercial Web services in a significant way for several years now. The idea is that the first use of an Web application is perhaps the least useful one, and that other businesses building on top of your . Amazon's Web Services Division has been the gold standard for this principle for years by providing high quality, well-designed and useful APIs for storage, computing, ecommerce, and more while offering service level agreements with substance and style. The other side of the coin is that the Web itself -- as a result of the opening up of APIs by almost all of the top Web firms -- has become the largest SOA in the world and consequently the world's richest source of content and functionality. What's missing? Well, for one thing, a universal, up-to-date, and machine-readable open API directory that can be used by anyone to actually locate the innumerable services now available on the Web and that can be consumed directly by developer and end-user tools. This has been an essential missing plank of the Global SOA until literally only a few months ago. One significant effort is the one that IBM and Programmable Web have been carrying out together. Their open Web APIs and parts directory is an impressive project that will go quite a ways towards solving this issue. The result will provide a live and up-to-date repository of available APIs and widgets that can be used by tools to make the vast resources of the Global SOA visible to anyone who cares to find and leverage them. There are other initiatives that are here or coming soon, but the key message here is that those failing to leverage the SOA of the Web will be increasingly at a competitive disadvantage.
  2. Social networks came of age for business. While LinkedIn has been used for years, millions of business workers -- and just as important, future business workers, discovered that Facebook was much more social, a broader audience, and was just a richer and compelling options. Somewhere along the way this year, as stories emerged that a number of Fortune 1000 firms recommended to employees to keep an updated profile, social networking began to get respect and acceptance as a functional business tool.
  3. The major software firms began to offer Web 2.0 solutions for businesses. Following up an initial wave of Web 2.0 for the enterprise offerings earlier this year, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft all had major announcements and made enterprise-saavy Web 2.0 products available to their customers. IBM unveiled it's "Web 2.0 goes to work" campaign in June along with three major shipping products while Oracle announced its "Enterprise 2.0 leadership" at OracleWorld in mid-November, and Microsoft moved its Sharepoint product closer to a Web 2.0 model by publicly partnering with Web 2.0 darlings Atlassian and Newsgator at the Web 2.0 Summit in October. Prior to these announcements, most enterprises had to rely primarily on startups for their Web 2.0 offerings and these announcements have changed the business calculus for Web 2.0 buyers.
  4. User/business-controlled Web identity began to take hold. As SaaS and off-premises solutions become more and more popular in the business world the issue of Web identity and its ownership becomes more and more important. Security, trust, and control of user accounts, both behind the firewall and beyond into the greater Web are top priority topics for enterprises and for the moment at least, most Web applications retain ownership and control of user credentials. For example, businesses require the ability to have oversight over remote business accounts when employees leave the organization, change responsibilities, etc. In response, the maturation of the openid initiative this year has been notable and a fast-growing number of Web sites are allowing users and businesses to bring their own user accounts to the table, which they own and control. Significantly, very popular Web 2.0 platforms such as Drupal -- which is offering openid capability as a standard feature in its latest version -- will help make federated, externally controlled Web identity a reality, and will help make adoption of SaaS and Web 2.0 apps a more acceptable option for many businesses. Other Web identity options abound, some of which are compatible with openid as well, but Web identity overall took a major step forward this year in the large.
  5. The Web-based user experience prepared to take a major leap forward. 2007 was definitely a foundational year when it came to the next generation of rich user experiences on the Web. Though "bare metal" Ajax had mindshare in 2005-2006, the buzz this year was definitely around platforms like Adobe AIR (the platform formerly known as Apollo) and Microsoft's Silverlight. Even Sun has it's own solution with the interesting and innovative JavaFX platform. These new RIA offerings represent compelling new next generation Rich Internet Application platforms that will take the Web to a entirely different place with true high definition Web media, 3D graphics, high developer productivity, and tools and infrastructure that are specifically designed to support the next generation of Web apps. These platforms were in early forms or beta this year and I believe they will see rapid adoption next year. Expect to see AIR and Silverlight applications in customer-facing and internal business applications by a significant number of enterprises in 2008. Note: RIAs will be one significant turf areas in the likely Web platforms battles next year, here's the analysis I did on this a while back.
  6. End-user mashups platforms laid the essential groundwork for early adoption next year. The promise of software that can be assembled by users out of the open APIs and widgets of the Web and/or the enterprise is tantalizing indeed. While these will only be simple solutions at first, they will still sweep away a long backlog of applications inside most organizations where business workers are hungry for data trapped inside enterprise silos. SOA has brought this as far as the developer trenches and mashups have the potential to bring open services and data all the way to the employees trenches, like RSS did for content in recent years. I wrote recently about all the issues that have to be resolved before end-user mashups will become as commonplace as spreadsheets (the primary end-user development tool currently) are today. But if you can accept some relatively minor compromises, at least three options emerged this year that are of the caliber and capability to make the end-user mashup vision a reality for technically-inclined business users at least. These include Serena Software's Mashup Composer, IBM's QEDWiki, and last but certainly not least, JackBe's Presto. To paraphrase William Gibson: End-user business mashups are here, they are just unevenly distributed.
  7. Widgets, gadgets, and roaming desktops on the Web showed enterprises how portals should really work as well as be disintermediated. The virtual explosion of portable Web parts this year, with Google Gadgets count alone crossing the 31,000 mark as of this writing, has shown that new delivery models are successfully emerging for Web applications, both for consumers and for businesses. As part of the fast-growing Do-It-Yourself (DIY) phenomenon, portable Web parts find a natural home in roaming desktops such as Netvibes, iGoogle, Pageflakes, and many others. But they are equally untethered to such infrastructures and can float around the Web and be placed wherever they are needed. As business workers -- using their consumer Web skills -- seek situational placement of the functionality and content they need from their IT systems, widgets and gadgets will likely become a popular delivery model for enterprise systems. Already most of the top portal makers have anticipated this and are already very accommodating of these new packaging systems for content, which often push the envelope and contain entire Rich Internet Applications connected to back-end services. 2008 may indeed be the year of the business widget.
  8. Enterprise 2.0 became a reality in 2007. While it's not quite mainstream yet, my recent survey of Web users indicated that a significant minority of business workers are now given ready access today to Enterprise 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis at the workplace. If anything, adoption of Enterprise 2.0 has been slightly faster than expected, and ahead of my Enterprise 2.0 predictions for 2007. While there's a long way to go for most organizations, it was clear from the mass deployments to tens of thousands of workers at Wells Fargo and other major firms, it is increasingly believed Enterprise 2.0 can unleash better collaboration, communication, and innovation amongst employees within and between organizations. While prediction markets and other forms of Enterprise 2.0 applications are still on the fringe, a strong trend is clear from widespread anecdotal and media reports: more and more corporate intranets are moving to provide blogs and especially wikis to their workers.
  9. Mobile Web applications for business became nearly ubiquitous. While the iPhone was far and away the biggest mobile story in 2007, it's not quite ready for serious business use (yet). Instead, for business users, innovative Web 2.0 applications such as Twitter began finding adopters for business purposes (with more quasi-business Twitter uses here from Dan York) while traditional business-oriented mobile Web apps proliferated as well, particularly as installed apps on the Blackberry RIM platform, which sported some best mobile Web application examples such as the Facebook Blackberry application. This year the boundary between the Web and mobile networks began to blur strongly as connected mobile applications, particularly of the Web 2.0 variety, showed that they could become useful, even essential, tools for collaboration, planning, and coordination for business workers. Google didn't hold back either and continued expanding its line of leading mobile applications throughout the year, with the star offering being Google Maps Mobile which offered innovative capabilities such as GPS-free location-aware mapping and near real-time traffic feeds. As workers become increasingly untethered, mobile Web 2.0 applications, which tend to focus on user involvement and social interaction, will almost certainly only get much more popular in the enterprise.
  10. A number of key strategic Web platform plays were begun in 2007 that will affect enterprises. It's a cardinal rule of network-based systems that the one with the highest network effect effect tends to win as well as stay on top. The best way to achieve dominance on the Web platform? Build a platform, that therefore has the strongest potential network effect and push it as hard as possible. An example: Google announced Android with much fanfare earlier this year, part of a complex platform play that ostensibly has the goal of wresting away control of mobile platforms away from those the carriers that currently dominate them. And to do this by understanding the intrinsic rules of the game better than existing mobile platform offerings, which by almost any accounting, Google does. This is a fascinating and ambitious strategy to wrest away what is fast becoming one of the most important parts of the Web: the mobile space. Enterprises will need to have an opinion on major platform players like Android at the very least, and possibly a full blown strategy, if Android's adoption continues as it has been. Other key platform plays of note in 2007 were Adobe's move to turn the one major vendor controlled, non-open standard part of the Web -- the omnipresent Flash player -- into a full blown Web and computing platform in its own right. So too with Microsoft's response, Silverlight. Google also made a notable overture this year to the social networking industry with OpenSocial, an API and SDK for offering standardization around Web apps for social networks that's really a platform play in disguise. There were others but the big software players seem to realize their businesses must have strong Web platform strategies and are looking hard to establish competitive advantage. As a result, we may indeed witness at least a partial return to the platform wars of yore over the next year.

For a detailed update on Enterprise Web 2.0 in general, read this summer's two part overview: A checkpoint on Web 2.0 in the enterprise, Part 1. Part2.

What do you think the most significant Enterprise Web 2.0 stories of 2007 where? Please add yours below in Talkback and I'll add any good ones into notes in this post.

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