Web 2.0 for the enterprise?

As you read the title of this new blog, the first question some of you will ask is if Web 2.0 is really important to the enterprise. To this I offer a resounding affirmation.

As you read the title of this new blog, the first question some of you will ask is if Web 2.0 is really important to the enterprise.  To this I offer a resounding affirmation.  It's more than just keeping up with the next trendy wave of innovation on the Web, or being able to issue the latest buzzword from the CTO's office.  Web 2.0 is the recognition that a fundamental shift in software and user experience is occuring, and that the Web is driving it.

There is a well known saying that no smaller system can encounter a larger system without being fundamentally changed by the experience. Once you see a much better way to do something, you can't wait to start. While traditional IT efforts still routinely underdeliver and underperform, the so-called Web 2.0 approaches to applications and user interaction are raising the bar on expectations for how software should work. These new models are offering practical techniques that seem to result in simpler, better software that's recognizably more engaging, changeable, and reusable.  And as important as any of this, people and their connections to each other are put where we've always needed them to be, at the center of the software experience.

If I had to summarize simply why Enterprise Web 2.0 is a vital concept, the vision of software ecosystems converging would be it.  It isn't that it's useful to version the Web, or even understand every aspect of the overloaded term that is "Web 2.0" to appreciate what's happening.  To understand this is to realize that the forces of change are intensely powerful in an online system that now contains over 1 billion users.  No entity can possibly remain unaffected by sustained exposure to such a large system.  In other words, whatever is happening on the Web today will only have an increasingly pronounced effect on the enterprise.

Then there are the particular aspects of Web 2.0 which are shaping software inside, outside, and across the firewall; the innovations in interactive, online applications, two-way flows of information between users and the Web, free-form organization of content, and the increasing use of social engagement to create communities.  Then there is the growing openness and interconnectedness of all the systems on the Web into a real information ecosystem via lightweight Web services like RSS, XML/HTTP, and REST. 

We can actually see waves of new innovative online software that's made this way arriving daily via sources like Michael Arrington's terrific TechCrunch.  Or we can witness Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and nimble Web 2.0 companies like 37signals, challenge each other as they seek to create the next major generation of software, online.  It's not that all the innovation in software is happening on the Web by any means, but it's the massive scaling factor that makes all the difference.

Fellow ZDNet blogger David Berlind recently offered some fascinating evidence of his own of the ease at which Web 2.0-style software "mashups" can be created out of the raw fabric of the Web (or the enterprise, which is the point). With such a vast landscape of easily exploitable functionality and data, software will by necessity be created increasingly by combining what already exists.  Isolated, standalone software just can't compete.

This vision is actually pretty familiar to those involved with a current best practice in enterprises today: service-oriented architecture.  As it turns out, just about any examination of the vibrant, integrated service ecosystem of the Web invariably makes SOA and EAI appear far too rigid and slow-moving in comparison.  Once you see a much better way to do something, you can't wait to start.

The reality is that the Web has become a higher-order platform that has a strong tendency to absorb (and yes, I'm resisting the urge to say assimilate) the smaller systems it encounters.  Traditional software and even operating systems won't go away soon but just aren't as relevant when all the important information and function is moving online.  At the same time, the Web is fostering global communities of people that feel enriched and enabled by the democratization of content and experience brought to them by the Web in the form of blogs, wikis, media sharing, instant messaging, and much more.

These are the themes and concepts that I'll continue to explore in this blog, I do hope you'll follow along.

For another view that's a bit self-serving but informative, see venture capitalist Peter Rip on Enterprise Web 2.0.