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

Web 2.0 Doublethink is Alive and Well

By Dennis D. McDonald

After Wikipedia's editing caused premature deletion of an evolving Enterprise 2.0 article (the correct term is now enterprise social software), I decided to investigate the measurement of costs associated with Web 2.0 applications in the enterprise.

If such applications are illusory, such costs will be difficult to define. If they are real, they might reveal themselves, at least in terms of an objective discussion of what constitutes "cost." Let's just call this my own little gedanken experiment.

That's the theory. I've written two cost-related articles so far, here and here. In between projects and proposals as I work on a third article (which I'll eventually add to my collection of white papers) I've run across some very useful posts that have stimulated my thinking.

Two very different views in particular caught my attention today after a foray through my RawSugar watchlists. They are such different views of related phenomena that the word "doublethink" popped into my head (I'm an Orwell fan). Both are from an online publication called The Register.

The first is titled Berners-Lee calls for Web 2.0 calm. It describes how Internet uber-guru Tim Berners-Lee has put the smackdown on Web 2.0. Here's a quote from the Register aricle:

Tim Berners-Lee, the individual credited with inventing the web and giving so many of us jobs, has become the most prominent individual so-far to point out that the Web 2.0 emperor is naked. Berners-Lee has dismissed Web 2.0 as useless jargon nobody can explain and a set of technology that tries to achieve exactly the same thing as "Web 1.0."

Reading further, it appears that many of the architectural components of Web 2.0 (e.g. "SOA 2.0") are, according to Berners-Lee, regenerated concepts that have been around for years but have been referred to by other names such as "grid computing" where distributed resources are made available to a problem.

Assuming this Register review of Berners-Lee's views is accurate, he may have missed a major aspect of Web 2.0: the users.

One of the things I have learned since Jeremiah Owyang and I wrote our article is that Web 2.0 means little without the networked collaborative sharing of data and relationships. Flexible and agile development of "mashups" and other pieces of technical architecture can be significant but mean nothing without users and their relationships. If Berners-Lee denigrates the term Web 2.0 because he thinks it's just warmed over shared services, re-usability, and enhanced middleware, he may be missing something.

In another Register article titled The IT manager's guide to social computing, we get a different view of Web 2.0 concepts. Here's an excerpt:

The claimed benefits, especially for wikis, are that collaborative projects are accelerated, emails are hugely reduced, innovation happens through serendipitous connections, unnecessary barriers are broken down and the risks posed by leaving staff are reduced because their contributions remain.

IT can play a significant role in terms of providing a secure computing platform and taking care of backups. It can implement the software as web services or use external hosts. Either way, IT’s job would be to facilitate then get out of the way. This is not meant unkindly, but the management part relates primarily to providing the tools, the communication capability and the hardware. It may extend to exchanging information feeds and links between existing and new systems.

I like this article because it's down to earth and concentrates on issues that the Berners-Lee statements seem to have missed, i.e., how the new technology can actually be used, and what the IT department's role might be in the process. These are issues that I addressed in a survey earlier this year and they continue to be discussed as the social implications of Web 2.0 technology continue to receive attention.

There's much truth in both of these articles. Even though Berners-Lee may miss the social and collaborative aspects of Web 2.0 with his concentration on technical architecture, the hype and evangelism surrounding Web 2.0 are intense and sometimes overlook major issues such as what is the best way to manage major data inconsistency issues with source data that needs to be accessed at the desktop level from multiple incompatible systems.

One of the meatier articles I've read recently hyping Web 2.0 in the enterprise is Shiv Singh's A Web 2.0 Tour for the Enterprise. I especially like his phrase, "The architecture of participation is baked into the architecture of the software." I wonder what Berners-Lee would say about that?

Also, even if we open up the enterprise with a panoply of pages and personal web pages that interconnect and allow for easy tagging, easy RSS feed subscriptions, and rapid search, social and organizational boundaries will still exist. A crossover from electronic to person-to-person networking will still involve social and organizational challenges. It won't matter if you regularly hang out at FaceBook  or you make weekly uploads to YouTube; meeting -- and working with -- someone in the flesh is still very different from meeting someone online.


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