The more folks read about successful uses of Web 2.0 technologies in the workplace -- such as Cisco's employment of tools like wikis and blogs, which have helped the company step up its product introduction pace and double its sales calls while cutting sales travel in half -- the more they want to give them a try.
Hold on there, hoss. In an effort to rein in expectations before they become wildly inflated, I feel compelled to point out that Web 2.0 tools are still in their infancy, with many of them still lacking key functionalities desired by users. (Lest we forget, "the peak of inflated expectations" is followed by the dreaded "trough of disillusionment" in Gartner's Hype Cycle.)
Last week, I discussed some common misconceptions about Web 2.0 tools with Tony Byrne, founder of CMS Watch, in a wide-ranging and fascinating interview. Several of the points mentioned by Byrne have hampered some of our internal uses of Web 2.0 tools at IT Business Edge.
For instance, users must typically create separate user profiles for every social service they use. Imagine how much easier it would be if profiles could easily transfer from one service to another. Yet that's mostly not possible today, says Byrne. Similarly, you cannot extend the functionality of social services to other applications. Many Web 2.0 tools are a "self-contained universe" in which actions such as tagging information can not be performed in outside applications.
In general, says Byrne, such tools are not being created with long-term usability in mind, as evidenced by their limited scalability and dearth of administrative controls. He says:
There is not a lot of thought put into, "What does this application look like two years from now? How do we clean up content? How do we back it up and archive it properly?" There's a short-term time horizon on this. IT wants to ask some deeper questions about how this will fit long-term into their broader information management responsibilities.
Oddly, few tools are equipped for both social networking and collaboration, Byrne points out. He uses two suites of IBM software, Connections and Quickr, to illustrate the widespread problem:
Connections is very networking-oriented with a little bit of collaboration. Quickr is very collaboration-oriented with a little bit of networking. So at a certain point, through the evolution of these things, you're probably going to want to take a thing that germinated in Connections and put it into Quickr to formalize it. Yet the whole point of Enterprise 2.0 is, "Let's keep the discussion going." But at that point, you're back in Connections.
These challenges don't mean that companies shouldn't give Web 2.0 tools a try. But they should be aware of these shortcomings. As with any new software, companies should identify the business scenario they want to achieve with it. Says Byrne:
Experimentation is good, but if you don't know what you are going to do with a wiki, there's a good chance it will sit empty.
Other tips offered by Byrne:
- Take an inventory of what your employees and customers are doing.
- Keep in mind that existing Web content management tools may suffice for some internal social functions, though it's less likely they'll work if external partners or customers are involved.
- Don't extend the "ethos of spontaneity" associated with using these tools to the selection process. Don't neglect testing, and ask hard questions about ongoing support and other issues.
- Look closely at the vendor, not just the product.