Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is Web 2.0 Just Riding the Synchronicity Highway?

The Swiss pyschologist Carl Jung believed that many experiences perceived as coincidence were due not merely to chance, but instead suggested the manifestation of parallel events or circumstances reflecting this governing dynamic. He even gave this occurrence of multiple events which occur in a meaningful manner a name, he called it "synchronicity."

There is a school of thought that views "Web 2.0" as nothing more than a marketing term in search of a meaning. I do not agree. Clumsy as the term itself may be, it resonates with enough people using and harnessing the Web in their life and their work to make discussions about its merits as a lexicon item moot. Even Cisco's chairman and CEO, John Chambers, is happy now to give Web 2.0 the endorsement of the ruler of routers, the sultan of switches; and when Cisco Systems, with a market cap of about $165 billion, gives a phenomenon the business thumbs-up – emphasized by its recent purchased of WebEx and the select assets of Utah Street Networks, putting it firmly in the social networking marketplace – then you know it is definitely very, very real.

What other "multiple events" can we adduce, to bolster the sense that Web 2.0, in the words of Social Computing Magazine, is "Reaching into the Business World with Both Hands"? And can we reliably conclude that this is more than just happenstance?

Chambers, when Cisco bought Webex for $3.2BN, said that Web 2.0 "is redefining how people, companies and countries collaborate in ways never before realized." In the press conference given to announce the purchase, he defined Web 2.0 as simply "the technologies that enable user collaboration," – adding that "these technologies include web services, Unified Communications, TelePresence, blogs, Wikis, pier-to-pier networks, podcast, Myshelf" etc.

The business relevance of all this co-technology (a term that I have coined to help with connoting somewhat more accurately than "Web 2.0" the essence of the next phase of the Internet) was spelled out by Chambers in a keynote this week at Interop Las Vegas. It is that it will increase enterprise productivity.

The gains won't come fast (Cisco's own leadership team, Chambers revealed, took four years to adapt to a more collaborative work environment), but they will come – at a rate of about 3 percent or more through per annum the next several years, according to Chambers.

"What kids started with social networking," Chambers intoned, "will move into business."

In other words, as Dion Hinchcliffe has repeatedly pointed out:

"It’s usually the new arrivals and the technologically savvy, younger workers, who will be using those new tools. They are going to proliferate and spread, no matter what you do."

So Enterprise 2.0 tools are the spiderwort of the 21st Century work environment. Jan Wergin, executive vice-president of Jubii, agrees with Hinchcliffe:

"We know what we are doing at home. It gets us excited, it gets us involved. Now we want to do it in our workplace as well where we spend 8-10 hours a day. Why not do the same thing? It’s not the focus on technology and making it more sophisticated and making it more complex, but it’s making it very easy, making it intuitive, making it easy to understand and taking something that we know from consumer Web 2.0 into the business suite and using it there."

What are the barriers to co-technology in the workplace. A British PR executive and social media analyst by the name of Richard Stacy has written that the disruptive nature of social media is so significant that, in the consumer world, it will mean that in some categories consumers will effectively have all the power and will operate the category under the form of a virtual user franchise. The counterintuitive consequence of this is that, since best-of-breed options will replace the mere illusion of choice, consumers will – in Stacy's view – "know as they walk down the supermarket aisle that they won’t be facing a range of duplicates – each and every one of the products they put their hands on will be the best in a class of one."

Here's how Stacy unpacks this idea more fully:

"I know this sounds a little like the Soviet Union or China where there was only one choice in every category and a very limited range of categories. The difference however is that the provider is not a remote and inflexible state enterprise but will have to be an organization that can instantaneously respond to consumers’ needs or else run the risk of losing its franchise.

Such an organization probably won’t own the means of production – this will be contracted out – but in reality many branded product manufacturers already do this. Instead, the organization will be focused on quality of product and real product innovation, rather than spurious innovation designed to establish differentiation.

You could say that the current system of having many organizations offering many choices and all competing against each other already provides this or is the best possible way of doing this. Well no. We don’t actually live in a world where the consumer is king – we live in a world where the consumer is important but where collective corporate profitability is king. We should also not forget that consumers don’t necessarily like choice, consumers like options and they like to know they are getting the best in all of the options they select."

So Stacy, in short, believe that co-technologies are capable of transforming more than just the workplace: they're likely to turn upside down the world as we know it today:

"The implications of this spread beyond just marketing. The possibility of social media actually empowering real consumer (or citizen) choice could have quite profound consequences and might actually deliver the forms of more efficient or perfect markets that proponents of free market economics set up as a necessary condition, but supporters of free markets find conveniently impossible to deliver in the real world."

So, is Web 2.0 just riding the synchronicity highway, hanging on to the coat-tails of happenstance? Or is social computing, as I have been alleging for some time, genuinely turning the world – including the business world – upside down and inside out? What do you think?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Making the Business Case for Enterprise Social Software Is Getting Easier

According to a report today by CRN's Heather Clancy, Forrester analyst Laura Ramos wowed the audience at the recent Forrester Research IT Forum 2007 by sketching a scenario – "Enterprise Software in 2017" – in which consumer expectations made business users more impatient and went with service-oriented architectures that support myriad application combinations, especially those promised by Web 2.0 and the social network movement.

This is precisely the same trend addressed by serial entrepreneur Mark Sigal in his recent article for Social Computing Magazine, "Social Media: It’s All About Breadcrumbs and Conversations."

Sigal asks whether social media is "just a consumer phenomenon or the tip of some larger iceberg that subsumes big brands and large enterprises" – then answers emphatically that it is the latter.

"Specifically because this stuff is so visceral and because it has proven to be so virally effective," Sigal writes, "its role in business, today a tiny heartbeat, is destined to grow into a walking and talking organism that some people call Enterprise 2.0."

Wikipedia already agrees that "enterprise social software" is now a real and distinct category, which is why too CMP Technology next month is launching a new conference devoted entirely to Enterprise 2.0.

And why Dion Hinchcliffe is running an Enterprise 2.0 Track on Tuesday at Interop Las Vegas, one of the biggest IT shows of the entire calendar this year.

Convincing upper management of the business benefits of social software used in enterprise contexts is the next ongoing task. Besides the usual suspects like enterprise wikis, corporate blogs, and unified communications, what are the most interesting, productive, and profitable "edge cases" of social software being used right now in the corporate enterprise? I'd love to hear up-to-date reports from the trenches - jeremy at geelan dot com.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Are Enterprise 2.0 Tools the "Wildflowers" of the 21st Century Workplace?

Tom Davenport, who the Harvard Business Review informs us holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College, contended recently that "Enterprise 2.0 Won't Transform Organizations."

Davenport is nothing if not straightforward:

"The primary proponent of this movement is HBS professor Andy McAfee, for whom I have a lot of respect. His are some of the most interesting thoughts on IT to come out of HBS in a long time, and he's a nice guy to boot. What he's trying to do is to bring Web 2.0 technologies into the enterprise, to understand and describe how blogs, wikis, tagging, and other participative tools will change large bureaucracies. He believes they will empower employees, decentralize decisions, free up knowledge, and generally make for better places to work. I share his goal of more democratic organizations and hope he is correct.

However, I fear he is not."

The reasons Davenport gives for his skepticism include "organizational hierarchy and politics," together with all the usual suspects whenever change is involved: "power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today."

That last factor is uncannily reminiscent of the Oregon logger found sawing down a Pacific Silver Fir with a bread-knife. When interrupted by a neighbour who'd observed him hacking away for the past three days and who sought to lend him a chainsaw, the logger replied "I'd love to stop and chat but really I haven't the time – I've got this huge tree to fell."

Dion Hinchcliffe, as we have come to expect, has a radically different take. Davenport is missing the predominant reality of E2.0, Hinchcliffe retorts, which is that "the challenges of Enterprise 2.0 adoption will likely take care of themselves." By this he means that, as a generation of professionals enters the workplace who have been brought up on Wikipedia, MySpace, and Facebook, "it is inevitable that Web-based tools will simply appear, like wildflowers, in the fertile fields of our businesses and institutions."

If anyone be in any doubt, by the way, they needn't be. Enterprise 2.0 a process that has already begun.

This is precisely why, in April, a global IT leader like Accenture launched its new global employee network, an Intranet application that borrows ideas from Facebook,, YouTube, Wikipedia and Second Life.

“The younger employees carry it,” explained Accenture's CTO Donald Rippert in a presentation at his company's recent Global Convergence Forum in Rome – meaning that they were the first to publish on wikis, to tag content so it can more easily be found by their Accenture colleagues worldwide and so on.

So when Tom Davenport rounds off his "Why Enterprise 2.0 Won't Transform Organizations" post with the remark that

"It's going to be very interesting to see what happens when the young bucks and buckettes of today's wired world hit the adult work force. Will they freely submit to such structured information environments as those provided by SAP and Oracle, content and knowledge management systems, and communication by email? Or will they overthrow the computational and communicational status quo with MySpace, MyBlog, and MyWiki?"

he is, well, basically...too late.

Hinchcliffe documents the process as follows:

"I now routinely collect stories of firms large and small encountering these tools sprouting up within their organization, both via internally installation of these platform to employees just putting their favorite externally hosted Enterprise 2.0 tool subscription on their corporate credit card. In other words, because they appear to so easily cross organizational boundaries, can be adopted so easily, require virtually no training, are highly social, and so on, Enterprise 2.0 apps appear to have their very own 'change agent' by their fundamental nature."

Now I am certain that neither Hinchcliffe nor I would claim that enterprise wikis and/or other collaboration platforms can turn around businesses by themselves. As the Burton Group's Mike Gotta has written:

"Change is a complex choreography and as new ways of doing things takes shape, new tools are one facet of that emergence. So tools can indeed help enable all types of transformation (expected and unexpected), but there is no silver bullet, you need to do more than deploy technology."

But when the likes of Accenture, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo – all three blazing a trail in the enterprise-wide adoption of these kinds of tools – endorse something, you have to believe that the rest of the business world cannot be too far behind.

Don't forget to catch the first episode of The Enterprise 2.0 TV Show, by the way, in which 4 industry pioneers talk about their work in the trenches of Enterprise 2.0: Socialtext, Near-Time, Kapow Technologies, and Jubii. Disclaimer: Jeremy Geelan is the Web 2.0 Anchor of The Enterprise 2.0 TV Show, and Dion Hinchcliffe co-presents.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Are We Witnessing the Death of Personal Computing?

Death is an unusually severe and degrading punishment, but sometimes it serves a higher purpose – and the death of personal computing is a great example. Because the potential of its replacement and successor, Social Computing, is exponentially greater.

Much has been made, recently, of the amorphous term "Web 2.0" and even Jeremy Zawodny, a leading blogger, is so challenged by its elasticity that he's just asked his readers "What the heck is Web 2.0 anyway?"

Zawodny's question spawned the usual selection of knee-jerk responses, but one very nearly nailed it:

"I think Web 2.0 is really more of a philosophical concept than a technical one. People always refer to open source, AJAX, perpetual betas, etc. as cornerstones of Web 2.0, but really there's only one common thread between things as diverse as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, and social networks:

They connect people and are driven by people.

I know I'm not the first to use the term, but I think Web 2.0 is 'The Living Web'. This includes 'old' technology like web forums, IRC, and even Usenet. They connected people and were driven by people...the original UGC in some ways!"

"Driven by people" though still doesn't quite, for me anyway, pinpoint the essence of social computing, which is the coalescence of collective intelligence (a tried and true concept) with the sudden (and much newer) maturing of various co-technologies such as feeds, tagging, trackbacks, photosharing, wikis, and the like.

Such "co-technologies" are to Social Computing what HTTP, TCP/IP, and View Source are to the World Wide Web – the technical glue that makes it cohere.

The result is that we are seeing the emergence of what Warren G. Bennis inspirationally called "Great Groups." Bennis was fascinated by what he called "The myth of the triumphant individual," which he felt was deeply ingrained into the American psyche.

"Yet we all know that cooperation and collaboration grow more important every day," Bennis wrote, continuing:
"The problems we face are too complex to be solved by any one person or any one discipline. Our only chance is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who can refract a problem through the prism of complementary minds allied in common purpose."

He called such collections of talent "Great Groups" and went on to note:
"The genius of Great Groups is that they get remarkable people -- strong individual achievers -- to work together to get results. But these groups serve a second and equally important function: they provide psychic support and personal fellowship. They help generate courage. Without a sounding board for outrageous ideas, without personal encouragement and perspective when we hit a roadblock, we'd all lose our way."

Social Computing leverages, through technology, the genius of groups. It is as simple, and as wonderful, as that.

Does this truly equal the death of personal computing? Well now of course I don't beleve for a moment that it does. Even though as long ago as 1994 I had the good fortune to publish Groupware in the 21st Century, the first ever comprehensive essay collection devoted to the phenomenon recognized (and named) by Peter & Trudy Johnson-Lenz back in 1978 when they coined the term, I don't actually contend that groupware supplants singleware.

But I do on the other hand truly, madly, deeply believe that their notion of groupware as 'a whole system of intentional group processes plus software to support them' is finally, through Social Computing, becoming a reality...but with the Web as the platform, rather than the PC.

Social Computing, though it is a computer-mediated culture, is a living system, shaping itself to support evolving group life, including that of Great Groups. Web-augmented dialogs among those holding diverse viewpoints on the critical questions and issues of our time represent, many of us believe, the hope of creating a better future for our children and our children's children.

"None of us," as the bumper sticker says, "is as smart as all of us."