Web 2.0 Technologies
The term web 2.0 was coined in 2004 and it covers a whole lot of applications such as blogs, wikis, Rich internet applications, social networking, etc. These applications have been dubbed ‘social software’ because they are perceived as allowing users to develop web content collaboratively in public domain.
The growing popularity of Web 2.0 tools amongst the users is due to ease of learning of the tools, the absence of need for high level of technical skills and ease of deployment, thus allowing users to focus on the information exchange and collaborative tasks, rather than distraction of esoteric technology.
Many organizations have started using and benefitting from Web 2.0 technologies in their interface with employees, customers and suppliers as shown in exhibit.
The most popular web 2.0 technologies are blogs, social networking, wikis, crowd sourcing, video sharing and podcasts. Blogs and social networking as of now stand ahead of other technologies but with improved bandwidths and technology improvements in video, one can expect video sharing surpassing others in popularity due to it being more effective in knowledge sharing.
Making employees adopt web 2.0 tools at work could pose big challenge for the management. However management cannot ignore the increasing role of web 2.0 in transforming their business. The management needs to lead their employees by adopting the web 2.0 tools and proactively participate in blogging and social networking.
Blog is a chronologically organized online journal. The blog in a way reinforces the phrase “pen is mightier than sword” in the truest sense. Imagine how easy it would have been for a Gandhi or Nelson Mandela to mobilize a global public opinion campaign if only they had access to blog.
Blogs provide opportunity for readers to add comment instantaneously sitting from their desk thus creating a seamless exchange of ideas. Blog authors can publish their content, and readers can subscribe to that content, using RSS feeds which eliminate the need to check blogs repeatedly to see if any new posts have been added-instead, notifications of new material come to the subscriber.
This notification mechanism makes it easier to follow blogs’ content—which means you tend to follow more blogs. RSS has another, counterintuitive advantage: it’s a qualitatively new channel—people don’t mind getting RSS alerts the way they mind getting email. Thus RSS can serve as an alternative Blogs (perhaps superior) way of letting people know about key events—project status, updates to shared documents, schedule changes, etc.
In any organization internal blogs can act as rich feed for knowledge management initiatives. At another level internal blogs can reduce email traffic within employees and act as an effective communication medium.
Allowing employees to blog externally has its advantages and disadvantages. About 8% of the Fortune 500 is blogging externally. When companies encourage employees to blog externally the management would like the employees to defend the company’s activities. Doing so however has the potential risk of readers terming it as another marketing gimmick. Another risk associated with external blogging is when employees start criticising company’s products or services or deride competitors. However the benefits of blogging over a period of time can far outweigh the negatives as it enables organization to make best use of available talent within the company which otherwise might have remained hidden. Blogs internally are bound to become what is email today and externally the blogs can shape up customer habits much more effectively than any advertisement campaign besides being low cost.
Wiki is a collaborative medium wherein multiple people from different geographies can contribute either by providing content or editing. One would tend to think that output would be a heterogeneous incongruous mess due to tendency one contributor to belittle the other contributor, especially in a public domain. However studies have shown that error percentage in free Wikipedia is not far different from the older and paid Encyclopedia Britannica. The average error rate for Britannica was 2.92 mistakes per article whereas for Wikipedia it was 3.86. This clearly establishes that free contributors do not necessarily leads to higher percentage of errors compared to paid services. In the software products this is clearly established by companies such as Google and Sun who provide services and products that compete well with paid software.
In case of Wikipedia it is not uncommon for more than 100 people contributing, debating on an article and resolves the differences through discussions and through mediation by a hierarchical structure. Wikis when used within an organization can help in creating a knowledge bank that can capture the experience of variety of team members and can be a good source to bank on when starting on a new project.
Deploying wiki software is inexpensive, low risk and worth trying. To make the project successful in the initial phase the big bang approach should be avoided and instead it should be focused small team with common interest who can take up the role of managing the content in areas of organizational interest where maximum benefits are expected. Over a period of time one can expect others in the organization to start contributing and breadth widening.
Research indicates that wikis have experienced increasing popularity as teaching tools in recent years. Wikis have been utilized in many areas of education, including distance education.
In the software industry, both the collaborative nature and the convenience features of the wiki make it an ideal tool for software project collaboration and communication.
Wiki use is increasing in the software development activities such as project planning, version control, requirements management, project tracking, test case management, defect tracking, user documentation, etc.
Crowd sourcing a “user centric innovation” wherein organizations make use of their potential customers not just for defining their needs but makes them design their product or service. In a way the organization makes their customers to hand over their idea to the company at fraction of a cost or free in order to make it go into production.
A study shows how companies are “reducing the risks of new product management” by using ever-spreading, ever-cheaper information technology to bring people outside the company into the design process. A Bangalore based health care company has successfully used crowd sourcing to improve the services of their panel of doctors, benchmark them and created value for their customers through sharing of customer experience about doctors. In this whole process the organization has leveraged interactive technology successfully, made their customers share their experience of the service received to provide value for new customers, doctors and the organization.
A few of the technologies discussed in this article are still maturing, the complexities getting unearthed and deployment strategies getting fine tuned. However one thing is clear that collaborative technologies are here to stay and more and more innovation and deployments can be expected in this space with support of senior management in organizations that have so far resisted from leveraging the benefits of web 2.0 for their businesses.
Over a period of time there is going to be real divide between companies using the interactive technologies and those who don’t adopt for doing business, both within the company and outside with stake holders.
As interactive technology becomes cheaper and easier to deploy, one could see more companies adopting web 2.0 to tap the creative wisdom of the crowd. The techno phobic’s would continue to doubt the sustainability of these technologies and pass them off as temporary phenomenon and waste of time. The smarter businesses however would not hesitate to make use of these technologies, since the risk of deployment and cost being low, to supplement their existing practices.
Measuring the cost benefit analysis for blogs and wikis within an organization is not going to be easy for the management since the benefits of fostering an open environment would be visible after a long time. Also strongly hierarchical management structures may resist adoption of technology in which youngsters may be more adept using it.
At Morison Menon we are noticing that extensive use of interactive technologies has resulted in better and quicker reviews, ability to tap latent talent of our employees which otherwise would not have surfaced, shortened delivery cycles for consulting assignments and improved interactions across our global offices at fraction of a cost.