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?