Reshaping Your Business with Web 2.0
Chapter 9: Putting Web 2.0 to Use in the Enterprise: Higher Value from Greater Participation
Table of contents:
Web 2.0 users, community and participation in the enterprise
Enterprise search and links for Web 2.0
Enterprise Web 2.0 blogs, wikis and content management
Tips for Web 2.0 success and setting Web 2.0 goals in the enterprise
New Web 2.0 tools: Beyond the basics
Know Your Goals
The guidelines outlined so far are generic and address typical pitfalls, fears, and risks associated with just about any endeavor pertaining to bringing Web 2.0 into the enterprise. Let's get more specific. Many flavors and possible angles and potential goals are present in such initiatives. One of the first steps involved is to make a clear assessment of scope and its implications.
The goal is not merely to scale down the greater Web into the firewall. Instead, deploying each initiative requires answering a few questions: Where does this service naturally live, and who are its users? Is it meant exclusively for the intranet? Is it meant as an outbound or outreach medium? Or, with a majority of services, does it really belong at the intersection where internal and external concerns mesh?
While it might be tempting to try and bypass several iterations in one go and lay out a sophisticated, fine-grained access control model that accommodates a wide set of participants, with visibility into various documents and with various permissions, it might also be daunting enough to derail the effort. It's interesting to note that, even in the case of public social networks, the learning curve has been progressive. Successful networking services have started with simple models that gained traction and ramped up the complexity of their privacy and sharing controls, all along educating their users and allowing them ample time to pick up the new features. And even then, defaults widely prevail, with most users not bothering to tweak the access controls they enforce on their information or going with all-or-nothing approaches.
Consider internal efforts, such as intranet wikis or blogs. At the highest level, the goal of rolling out such tools is to improve productivity through better information sharing. Setting up an internal environment is easy, even if the organization takes steps to ensure that the newly introduced platform plays nice with existing single-sign-on schemes, company directories, or social networks. But eliciting participation takes more than simply stating that switching from e-mail or shared file systems to wikis will help achieve productivity gains. It's important that the enterprise articulate those expected gains in terms that relate to the specific "pain points" in the company. That means surveying and understanding the perceived needs for better information sharing, recognizing factors that prevent its smooth dissemination, and identifying who are the likely early adopters, the likely champions of an initiative aimed at streamlining those flows. These are the people who will be willing to change their current toolsets to eliminate friction and replication. The strongest advocates are likely those who have been exposed to and are users of streamlined and social tools, who perceive being confined to e-mail as a step back. This is why McAfee claims that one of the characteristics of successful deployment of Web 2.0 in the enterprise is to engage lots of young people who consider sharing on social networks to be the norm.
For projects aimed at outreach, such as participation in the blogosphere or social networking sites, the key point is simultaneously to nurture an authentic voice and to engage with an existing community of customers. This combined with the need to establish clear, tool-agnostic policies in terms of authoring will help employees feel empowered and informed when it comes to contributing.
Web 2.0 Culture: Success Enablers
This means the enterprise must ensure an open, porous environment, where actors inside and out are loosely but frequently connecting and collaborating. It pays to ensure that, even in the early stages of rolling out outbound Web 2.0 efforts such as blogs, employees are aware that they are not merely writing, but starting conversations with their users.
When it comes to choosing and implementing the various solutions, Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNet coined a useful acronym of desired characteristics in a Web 2.0 solution: FLATNESSES, derived from an earlier version by McAfee, SLATES. What does the revised mnemonic stand for?
- Free-form Emphasizing ease of use and egalitarian permissions, freeform tools not only foster participation but also enable users who were not originally anticipated to participate when rolling them out.
- Links Promoting links is crucial as the unit of exchange and are of value in helping create connections and enabling structure to appear.
- Authorship The premise in Web 2.0 is to be inclusive, to provide access to every employee to easy publishing tools that facilitate participation.
- Tagging As opposed to folder hierarchies, tags allow folksonomies to evolve naturally and let users slice information along multiple dimensions.
- Network-oriented Corollary to the promotion of links, it is critical to make as much content as possible web-addressable, to have web-centric applications mediate as many exchanges as possible. This not only allows users to discover content through links, but supports the reuse of information without a need to replicate it, e-mail–style.
- Extensions McAfee refers to extensions of knowledge by extracting patterns, by mining activity to derive implicit behaviors. You can also interpret extensions as the ability for the system to mutate from having mashups and widgets interoperate, reusing data under different guises and perspectives, extending its reach and value.
- Search Search is the key to discovery and thus to augmented value for the information held in the system, to accelerated circulation, and to lower replication.
- Social At least some of the tools in the ecosystem need to allow weak ties to thrive beyond the static group of the organization chart. Along with fomenting discovery of ad hoc connections and similarity in interests, they enable low-key interactions, push-based status updates (Twitter-style), and profiles, and thus foster a climate of trust, collaboration, and participation.
- Emergence Emergence supports organic structures to build over time from the content—as opposed to predefined, rigid categories—by leveraging taxonomies, implicit behaviors, votes, bookmarks, tags, and other linking patterns.
- Signals No longer solely dependent on e-mail, tools use subscriptionbased signals such as RSS feeds and mobile devices to update interested parties about new or modified materials.
These characteristics constitute powerful and helpful guidelines for assessing the quality and appropriateness of a service or tool for a collaborative initiative, and for determining how well it complements and integrates with existing solutions. But even more generic principles are worth considering. These straddle both technology and culture and are early indicators of success. In particular, one need is to emphasize ease of use above feature-richness, especially early on. It might be possible to roll out new features over time, but a steep and timeconsuming learning curve is a deterrent to significant adoption.
In addition, executive support is important—beyond merely paying lipservice to the initiative or lecturing the rank-and-file about the need to embrace this or that tool. A cultural change is required of everyone in the company, and executives must lead by example and illustrate what it means to open up and participate, whether by spending time contributing to blogs or otherwise breaking the boundaries of the targeted information silos. The executives' own actions and continued support will be more telling and more beneficial to any Web 2.0 initiative than their original stamp of approval on a product rollout.
Cultural hurdles are also encountered when fostering participation through establishing an environment of trust and openness. This is also driven by example. A key success factor is to make sure at least some of the tools deployed are explicitly social, allowing the organic social fabric to be exposed and thrive, and ultimately to be leveraged, as contributors gain more confidence sharing with their collaborators.
Finally, in addition to champions and early adopters, an early set of users willing to spend the cycles needed to tend to the new space should be identified. These users will be available to iterate over versions of the evolving knowledge being built, similar to how Wikipedia has dedicated volunteers who tend to its content.
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Continue to the next section: New Web 2.0 tools: Beyond the basics This was first published in December 2008
This was first published in December 2008