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The business case for Web 2.0

Desai says he’s seen them deployed as adjuncts to help desk activity and material—a help desk might put together a wiki as a knowledgebase for common problems that customers encounter and how to solve them.

Lees stresses that, as with forums, the result of wikis is the formation of a long-term knowledgebase that complements other more formal internal ones.

Cearley emphasizes that the technology of wikis is quite simple. The important aspect of wikis, he says, are the formal and informal rules that evolve regarding who can update things, how they can be updated, what appropriate updates are, how to manage the discussion around updates as they occur, how to track the updates, etc. That comprises an internal ecosystem of best practices that has evolved beyond just the raw wiki capabilities.

Social software

You wouldn’t think of polling as very popular inside businesses, but it can be, albeit by indirect means. Cearley explains, "There are some interesting things that are growing up around IBM’s Connections and Connections2, and some other new social software components that are coming out of the labs. With internally deployed social software, individuals can create their own communities and home pages like you have with Facebook. On Facebook, you have indirect polling with its top lists, like ‘my top five Web sites that I found this week,’ that people post on their home pages. Those can get published out to other people so they can see whose Web sites are popular. Since you are ranking Web sites, you are doing an informal poll."

That brings us to social networks, which Cearley maintains, are going to be a critical and potentially disruptive technology to the enterprise. He continues, "But social networking inside the enterprise is a bit different than on the public Web. On the Web, you’re dealing with massive numbers of users, and communities can live and die because, in the law of numbers, you’re going to get a lot of tire-kickers. Inside the enterprise, you have fewer users and less willingness to let lots of people in and see what communities form. Companies can’t afford to let just anyone in to a social network. So it’s important that the IT department and the business users start with more of a targeted plan."

He advises that they start with a list of communities that have needs and pains that social networking can solve, so they can break down geographic, time and other barriers to facilitate interaction within a community. Identify a problem and community it affects, and focus use of those tools on that problem.

So, again, it’s not just about the tools. "By focusing on a few high-value problems first," Cearley explains, "you create a community that can start to grow and flourish. Then what you find is users will start coming up with their own ideas of communities and their own new ways of using social software that were not directed by the enterprise."

The cutting edge

Admittedly, social software is still at the nascent stage within businesses. But trends are happening that will drive broader adoption. For instance, what’s pushing awareness of social software-types of activity in businesses is Microsoft’s SharePoint portal.

According to Desai, "About 95 percent of the customers we deal with use SharePoint. It’s the first way people have actually seen how social networking and collaboration have brought their business value. It’s grown virally in these organizations because it’s easy to use and obvious."

Given SharePoint’s seeming ubiquity, it might be the platform where social software gains the foothold in the enterprise that brings it mainstream.

Broader relevance

In the big three activities of content management—collaboration, communication and commerce—Web 2.0 tools facilitate the first two. While collaboration has gotten the lion’s share of attention, it should be evident now that communication within the business and among the customer community—especially the shaping and dissemination of information—is equally important. Now that these tools have gained a foothold in the enterprise, businesses and individuals will likely come up with new uses for Web 2.0 tools that will increase their relevance to company goals while easing the work burden of employees.

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