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Web 2.0 - Tool or Terror?

If you are not a geek, you may not have heard of Web 2.0.  If you did, you may have wondered, "What is this, how does it affect my business, and what if anything I should be on the look out for?"    Hopefully the information below will help you make sense of these tools.

What is it – this Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is not the next version of the world-wide web (www).  It is a set of applications (tools) that have these general characteristics:
  • Collaborative
  • Creative
  • Connected
Collaborative
Web 2.0 applications generally have a one-to-many, or a many-to-many relationship.  Different from email where the recipients are generally known, a Web 2.0 application’s one-to-many relationship could be to millions of unknown individuals.  This also differs from the many office collaborative work tools where the universe is, again, generally known.   Additionally, the feedback loop is expected and made available to all participating.

Creative
Participants in the Web 2.0 space generally embrace the growing sophistication of multimedia tools, relatively cheap storage, and an increasing broadband pipe.   Multimedia or media rich content includes both the visual and auditory senses.  Visual content can be static, like a picture, or full motion, like a movie.    

Many creators are artists over scientist.  Some would say that publishing meets one of their basic sociological needs.  There is more of a need to be in the moment versus analyzing the situation.  I will revisit this trait later in the article.

Connected
Different from collaborative, connectedness refers to the topology used to communicate.  This topology is predominately Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) or stated in simple terms, the Internet.  More accurately stated the Internet runs on TCP/IP.  Most of the Web 2.0 applications run on the Internet, although other transports exist.         

Some examples of Web 2.0 applications include blogs (web logs), akin to a journal; wikis (wikipedia), a social collaborative online encyclopedia;   social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn; alternate reality communities like Second Life and SimCity; and online presence tools like Twitter.  This is a short list of common examples and is by no means reflective of all the different categories of applications.  Presence tools like Twitter may need some explaining.  Twitter and tools like it keep the community of users informed as to the location and or activity of its members.  With the explosion of GPS-enabled devices your location can be used to link you to information, products, and services.  More about this later, but for now think of the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report.”

How Does Web 2.0 Affect My Business?

From the typical business paranoia you can imagine the security threats and lack of productivity.  The security threats exist since many applications load cookies to recall and track information.  Additionally there may be a significant amount of company information willingly being shared over these tools.  Think of the employee blogging about a new product, discovery, other intellectual property, or financial position.  Employers are concerned about the amount of company time spent on social networks.  Although I have not found a research study that captures hard numbers, many contributors feel that on average it is about 2 of each 8 hour day.   Consider an illegal act over the company’s system without clear policies as to what type of usage is acceptable or sanctioned.  Could the company be held liable?

If you step back from the truly scary, many in the tech community are embracing these applications.  Conversely, if a company has created policies to govern usage, many organizations have found this to be a fair trade for the always on – always connected employee.  Some companies have found ways to tap the affinity of the members of these applications.  Other companies have targeted marketing programs and product placement in applications like Second Life and SimCity.  Companies even use this application to test their products and services before launching a national marketing campaign.

There are clearly challenges and opportunities in the Web 2.0 world.   Do not forget the human aspect.  Moving from face-to-face interactions to virtual ones does require some getting used to.  I personally feel there is a great deal to be gained with the opportunity to “press the flesh” or take the “field trip” even in light of the greening of corporate travel and reduced budgets.  Let’s not forget the generational and access gaps that still exist.  Mature members of our society are selecting these applications at a slower pace than the late baby boomers, generation X, or the millennial generation.  Additionally, computers and access to broadband is not quite ubiquitous.

What Should I Know?

Things have definitely changed.  Web 2.0 is loose and will be around for a long time with or without the corporate blessing.  This makes it hard, if not impossible, to control in a free society.  Your organization should have an acceptable use policy that governs the use of company equipment and information.  Please note that I am talking about the controlling of equipment and corporate information, not the individual.   As psychologists will affirm, changing behavior is a whole different topic.  From a corporate Information Technology practice it is simpler to state the rules of engagement and deal with violations.   

Companies need to understand that information within these applications have a life of their own, almost unending.  I return to the discussion of artistic over scientific.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Increasing these collections of artistic connections is viewed as fact.  Many individuals think that if it is searchable then it must be true.  Creditable news agencies vetted stories.  Now anyone with a few Web 2.0 applications can publish information that someone else could accept as fact when it is only opinion.  Companies need to be aware of this and monitor their online personality.  Additionally, companies must actively choose what course of action to take to clear or correct its image.  Is what you find slanderous or liable?  Is it a minor distraction or is the nation watching?  Maintaining your online image can be costly and time consuming, and the worst case could be an exercise in futility when you consider how quickly the information is replicated.

On a positive note there are opportunities to leverage the applications.  I felt “Minority Report” was ahead of its time.  Not for the crime fighting techniques, although that was thought provoking, but for the targeted and never-ending marketing.  Billions of dollars are being spent to market effectively to you.  This includes any purchased base marketing like pop-ups, recommendations, and even cash register coupons.  The technology exists today to aggregate your past purchases, identify your location, and have a recommendation sent to your mobile device to alert you of a buying opportunity in your immediate locale.   You just must not cross the line that makes the consumers tune you out.                

Tool or Terror?


As with anything, good tools used inappropriately or with malice will be a bad thing.  Web 2.0 applications show great promise and large organizations are on the leading edge of optimizing these applications to their advantage.  The folks in the marketing department hope their advertisements go viral on the net.    Companies can leverage these tools effectively as long as they do not let the security down.  Companies should have the appropriate policies, monitoring, and incentives in place to guard their environment and protect their data.  Companies must help educate their employees to the risks and promote intelligent usage yet let the creativity flourish.

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