In this article I address the relationship between privacy, control, and enterprise adoption of Web 2.0. These are themes I touched upon in a recent article I posted in Sys-Con's Web 2.0 Journal:
i-Technology Viewpoint: It's Time to Take the Quotation Marks Off "Web 2.0" — Different industries and market segments are adopting Web 2.0 systems at different rates, but Web 2.0 is here to stay. The main reason for resistance is not the technology changes Web 2.0 brings, but changes to traditional approaches to controlling customer and employee relationships. Still, there are practical steps you can take to help ensure the success of your enterprise Web 2.0 project.
I based the above article on a series of blog entries published here on All Kind Food over the past few weeks and I was fortunate to get feedback from several colleagues and friends: Rod Boothby, Chris Law, Jeremiah Owyang, Luis Suarez, and Ken Yarmosh were all kind enough to share their insights with me as I refined that article.
What has become clear since January when Jeremiah Owyang and I co-authored Business and I.T. Must Work Together to Manage New "Web 2.0" Tools is that "it's not just about the technology." Web 2.0 is about how people communicate. Technology is an enabler.
People have increasing expectations about the speed and personalization of their web based communications. Many appear willing to give up some control over their privacy in order to take advantage of speed and personalization. We see this in widespread acceptance of browser "cookies" and in acquiescence to requirements for user registration by various "social networking" related systems.
Perhaps it is ironic that giving up some control over privacy may provide increased control over some aspects of online communication. Examples are social networking technologies that facilitate introductions to individuals who share a common interest. Building one's "network" in this way can increase the control one has over certain types of introductions and social interactions. The growth of professional networking tools such as Linkedin testify to this. One interpretation of what is happening in such situations is that people continue to care about privacy, but that the number of individuals people are willing to "trust" is being expanded.
The flip side of redefining privacy is the way Web 2.0 changes control over communications. This is often cited as one of the reasons that some corporations are "dragging their feet" in adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. For example, one respondent in my Web 2.0 Management Survey said that adding "blogging" to the company's customer communications operations would introduce too much complexity given the need to review certain financial and policy related responses with company executives before a response could be posted to the public.
Perhaps a case can be made that opening up the enterprise to more interactive and collaborative relationships with customers will actually increase certain types of control. For example, by providing better communications and a way to hear quickly about problems in the marketplace, the enterprise is better equipped to prepare and deliver a rapid response. (As Thufir Howat says in the first Dune movie: "Now remember the first step in avoiding a trap, is knowing of its existence!")
Trust and Speed
A central theme in discussion of both privacy and control is the issue of trust. People are willing to share private information in return for a benefit if they trust the entity with which the are sharing. Also, people are willing to become more open about their corporate communications if they trust that the outcome will be to their benefit.
In both cases, the level of certainty about the outcome is important. That is one reason that Web 2.0 technologies have spread so widely and so quickly through the web via systems and services that appeal to personal and professional interactions. Adoptions times are fast and numbers of adopters are large given low costs and low barriers of entry for the types of personal communications that are the targets of various social networking tools. Getting to know people and share information about personal and professional interests may be facilitateb electronically, but it is something that people are inclined to do anyway.
With corporations it's different. There are existing processes and systems to consider. Even with the most aggressive adopters of Web 2.0 technologies, the costs of changing or integrating with existing systems and processes must be taken into account. If this results in slow adoption rates, does it mean there is "enterprise resistance?" Or does it just mean that managers are being careful with investors' money?
My belief is that any change to how a company operates has to be viewed both in terms of its costs and its benefits -- to customer, shareholders, and to employees. It's no different with Web 2.0 technologies.
The fact that such issues are being debated more frequently is, in my opinion, a good sign. It means that we've progressed beyond technological evangelism and are addressing important questions.