Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

More Thoughts on Northern Virginia's "The New New Internet" Web 2.0 Conference

By Dennis D. McDonald

I've had some time to ponder this past Wednesday's ExecutiveBiz New New Internet conference in McLean, Virginia. It was organized by Dion Hinchcliffe and other Web 2.0 luminaries to discuss corporate applications of a wide range of collaboration, social networking, and software development technologies and processes.

Nearly 400 people attended. This was more than what I had expected for an East Coast event. Given the focus of the umbrella organization, ExecutiveBiz, there was a lot of gray hair in the audience for the various presentations and panel discussions. There was also, by various "show of hands" types of questions, a lot of technology savvy in the room as well. So I think there was a pretty good matchup of sophisticated presenters and sophisticated -- and influential -- audience.

Here are the main themes that emerge for me as the key topics addressed at the conference; throughout this I've sprinkled some of my own comments as well as links to other items on this blog that I think are relevant:

  • Disruption
    • A mantra among public web entrepreneurs is to "...look for a market to disrupt," then use web based systems to take it away from the incumbents.
    • Using the same "disruptive" approach in corporate adoption of Web 2.0 techniques has different resonance:
      • Non-IT staff find "disruptive" technologies attractive (e.g., being able to sneak in externally vended solutions under IT's corporate "radar screen").
      • IT staff tend to worry about security, up-time, integration, standards, etc. -- things that take time. Users don't like the delay and look for ways to "vote with their feet."
      • Business excecs worry about disruption of corporate culture by systems that ignore traditional boundaries. (My own research suggests that this is the number one issue with corporate web 2.0 adoption).
  • The direction of innovation
    • Technology innovation is occurring outside organizations first then coming back in.
    • "Consumers are employees" and this impacts expectations.
    • Traditional models of network participation suggest that within organizations it may not be unusual that only a few people will be very network-active; 
      • Will small numbers of network and collaboratively active employees suffice to generate "network effects"?
  • Uncertainties about managing adoption of the new technologies
    • Unknown: whether top down or bottom up model (e.g., voluntary vs. forced participation) is appropriate.
    • Practical reality: if employees are left to work on their own, will they adopt the technology spontaneously?
  • Importance of ease of use
    • On the public web, people have to "get it" the first time -- or they "vote with their feet" and go elsewhere.
    • Some corporate applications are inherently complex and cannot be simplified.
    • Flip side: internal users are "captive" and may have no recourse but to use what is offered them.
  • The overlap between development, delivery, and user environments is confusing to many people.
    • References to REST, SOA, AJAX, and SaaS, constant during the panel discussions might have confused some of the senior executives.
    • Some presenters (such as Jeff Crigler of Voxant) were adamant that "...Web 2.0 is not about technology ... it's about interacting with customers ... technologies come and go ... we may not be talking about AJAX next year!"
    • Even though "pure development time" is only a small proportion of total time and costs of some projects, being able to very rapidly develop and show users very high quality interfaces is a big step toward productivity.
    • Whether or not tools will enable users to become "developers," though, remains to be seen.
  • The shifting role of Corporate IT.
    • With one exception, not many people at the conference seemed to be speaking "on behalf of" IT departments and the kinds of security and integration concerns they tend to worry about.
    • One speaker (Hart Rossman, SAIC) did discuss security related issues and risk:
      • "If you're doing corporate internet management and you are not "hip" to Web 2.0 and SOA, you can't manage the risk."
      • "The question is, in the near term, is the "convergence" of Web 2.0 applications and SOA enterprise ready? Maybe not."
      • To be determined: who owns the data in a "mashup"? What legal recourse will you have if a data supplier to a corporate application involving externally sourced data stops performing? What will your customers do?"
      • "Is the browser today's "green screen"? (refers to ubiquity of web and browser technology for delivering applications and data, as in "the network is the operating system"."
      • "Patch management is king" with changes being constantly rolled out. You need management processes to handle this. (I have discussed the popularity of beta software here.)
      • "These days the system integration function is coming into its own as developers look to combine different applications and data sources."
      • "SOA architecture runs counter to siloing within the organization -- it involves making functionality available across a variety of applications."
      • "Examining some mashup architectures suggest that some vulnerabilities -- e.g., cross-scripting -- might be re-introduced to the organization if we aren't careful."
  • Getting "comprehensive search" to work within an organization is not easy.
    • Google has made us accustomed to what can happen when vast amounts of data are indexed and made searchable worldwide.
    • Even though some speakers talk about the value of "corporate search" of everything, the fact is that given current system variety within the enterprise, coming up with a single search solution is very difficult.
  • Microsoft
    • Microsoft "gets" Web 2.0 based on its own internal developer communications and its opening up the development process to outsiders. (For an example of what I mean by this check this out.)
    • Not really discussed during the conference: how to overcome some of the inherent incompatibility between web-centric architectures and corporate Microsoft-centric architectures. (Dennis' comment: this is one of the 900 pound gorillas in the room that few were addressing openly with respect to bringing Web 2.0 techniques into the corporation.)
    • Internally, Microsoft applies the descriptor "EDGE" to what appear to be advanced collaboration and communication applications that are being built around Sharepoint Server 2007.  I asked about this term. Michael Platt, Microsoft Architect, said that it was a term developed by the Marketing Department to represent applications that, while they are not considered "bleeding edge," are probably going to take several more years to be implemented within corporations where such applications might require cultural or behavioral changes. (Editorial comment: there may be some folks out there who will use this attitude to the advantage of their own technologies.)

All in all, this conference provided MUCH food for thought and I'd like to thank my friend Ken Yarmosh of TechnoSight for making it possible for me to attend.

I have posted two additional articles based on this conference:

  1. Introducing Collaboration Technologies to the Enterprise is a Challenge
  2. Applied Superdistribution: Voxant's "Viral Mashing" News Distribution


Introducing Collaboration Technologies to the Enterprise is a Challenge

Introducing Collaboration Technologies to the Enterprise is a Challenge

The Justification of Enterprise Web 2.0 Project Expenditures