Web 2.0? Who's got time for that?

Enterprise Web 2.0 has its vital core of enthusiasts. Nick Carr says most are simply too busy to fuss with it, but Andrew McAfee says the applications are real time savers.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

We all know Nick Carr is very hard to please when it comes to demonstrating the value of information technology, and shows no mercy as he picks apart the enterprise-readiness of emerging Web 2.0 applications. Which is to say, Web 2.0 may be ready for the enterprise, but the enterprise sure isn't ready for Web 2.0.

Carr equates Web 2.0 collaborative technologies -- blogs, wikis, tags, RSS and the like -- with previous attempts at automating or capturing organizational knowledge: Nick Carr

"Over the years, big companies have dumped a lot of money into computer systems that promise to automate 'knowledge management.' Most of that money has been wasted. No matter how technologically elegant their design, knowledge management 'platforms' and 'repositories' tend to quickly collapse under the weight of their own complexity. Using them turns out to be more trouble than it's worth - particularly for those employees who have the most valuable knowledge - and the platforms and repositories fall into disuse and are eventually, and quietly, dismantled. People go back to using efficient, direct conversations - through meetings, or phone calls, or emails, or instant messages - to exchange useful knowledge."

Carr pounced on a more optimistic assessment of Enterprise Web 2.0 by Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee, who wrote that Web 2.0 technologies may succeed where earlier technologies didn't. The new technologies are cheap, fairly simple to set up, and fairly straightforward to use. Plus, "they focus not on capturing knowledge itself, but rather on the practices and output of knowledge workers," as well as leave an easily accessible, searchable, public record of knowledge transactions.

Whoa, said Carr, stating that the success story McAfee cited is simply a case of early-adoAndrew McAfeepter enthusiasm, adding that "in the excitement of the rollout of such technologies, it's easy to document initial 'successes' - there's always at least a small group of technologically-inclined employees who will gravitate to a seemingly cool new platform. The real test comes later, when the personal costs and benefits of using the system become apparent to a broad set of employees."
McAfee agrees as much, noting "that managers, professionals and other employees don’t have much spare time, and the ones who have the most valuable business knowledge have the least spare time of all. (They’re the ones already inundated with emails, instant messages, phone calls, and meeting requests.) Will they turn into avid bloggers and taggers and wiki-writers? It’s not impossible, but it’s a long way from a sure bet."’

In a response to Carr's blog, he also notes that while "the spread of Enterprise 2.0 technologies is definitely not a sure bet," his "enthusiasm and cautious optimism about these tools stems from the fact that they’re already being used heavily and delivering huge amounts of value.  This usage right currently takes place almost exclusively on the public Internet; Enterprise 2.0 is my shorthand for these tools’ migration behind the firewall."

"If you believe that this migration won’t take place, you believe essentially that companies—interdependent groups of people with a common mission and a profit motive— are less able or less likely to engage in free-form collaboration than the mass of previously independent volunteer freelancers that have made Wikipedia, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, del.icio.us, Digg, etc. so powerful and successful."

"It’s very reasonable to believe that most busy professionals are only going to blog if it helps them get their job done.  But it’s also pretty reasonable to conclude that blogging will do exactly that....  I completely agree that most workers these days feel busy, and hard-pressed to keep up with both demand and supply of information.  The tools of Enterprise 2.0 can help do both."

But the potential of Enterprise Web 2.0 is more than just the tools. There's another aspect to Web 2.0 that plays into the emerging space of service-oriented architectures as well. Fellow ZDNet blogger Dion Hinchcliffe frequently talks of Web 2.0 as evolving into more of a gallactic SOA (which he calls Enterprise Web 2.0), with all the principles and advantages of SOA, but functioning and deployable across enterprises, rather than internally. If SOA moves beyond enterprise islands and into a standardized, cross-enterprise cloud (a la the Internet), the business case will be very compelling.

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