The 3 ways I expect Web 2.0 to change collaboration – and are you there yet?

So, if I’m yawning a little 😉 about the current examples of collaboration inside organisations using technologies from the Web 2.0 collaboration suite (e.g. wikis), perhaps I should explain what characteristics I do expect to see?

Firstly, at high level I expect Web 2.0 to change collaboration in the following ways, listed in order of value they bring:

  1. Make collaboration technologies more fit for purpose – Rather than a radical change to the tools we had in the past, Web 2.0 technologies, like AJAX and Rich Internet Application (RIA) approaches, are used to improve usability and accessibility – the results are tangible but in effect we are just building a better mousetrap, not introducing new modes of collaboration;
  2. Add new functionality to existing collaboration functionality – Adding new, but incremental changes to the collaboration functionality we already have, this might include improving findability and awareness through social feedback mechanisms and content syndication to providing new ways for manipulating information, such as mashups – however, we still haven’t changed the fundamental patterns of collaboration, even if this makes it better; and 
  3. Support new models of collaboration that didn’t exist before – What the old collaboration technologies didn’t do so well is support emergent needs (Web-based tools like eRoom and Quickplace started to do this, but are still relatively inflexible compared to the Web 2.0 generation of tools), reflect the need for boundary spanning or boundary agnostics collaboration systems and enable dynamic people-to-people and conversational collaboration – however, the challenge is that while the impact should be a radical change to the patterns of collaboration, it may also be technically less tangible because it becomes more about how we use Web 2.0 technologies, rather than what they are.

You might detect that these characteristics are informed somewhat by some similar thinking to that I describe for Intranet 2.0. In fact I believe it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the concept of intranets and collaboration as intranets become less content publishing-centric. So, regardless of what kind of 2.0 we are talking about, when is comes to changing how we collaborate using Web 2.0 technologies my expectation is that the value and our ability to execute in practice on these characteristics will be determined by other factors in an organisation’s environment. Such as (but most likely not limited to):

  • Constraints of the underlying business culture, user IT literacy or business model – in some cases, if you build they won’t come, at least not without the right support and incentives;
  • Breadth of platforms deployed and richness of the Web 2.0 infrastructure available – Web 2.0 is not about a single tool or platform, instead it is a cloud of technologies – you will struggle to get *maximum* value from deploying a single blog or wiki (this is probably a subject for another post! In the meantime, think about the mechanics of the SLATES model).
  • Competitive Forces – This comes from many directions – competitors who using Web 2.0, the war for talent, changing business models, etc (think of Porter’s Five Forces model – which is also another reminder that its not the technology, but how we use it).

I believe its quite possible some organisations will struggle to get out of the starting blocks – reflecting what I’m seeing first hand and that research evidence is suggesting. Of course if you wait long enough the chances are that even if you do nothing the natural progress of software upgrades in traditional collaboration suites will see improvements and new functionality (characteristics 1 and 2) provided for you anyway. But having said that, even if the capability is installed (and it works), you may not actually use it or use it poorly due to other factors. The third characteristic is also harder to achieve, because it will take more than an upgrade.

Unfortunately its a competitive world out there and some organisations will leverage Web 2.0 well and others not so well.

That’s all for the moment. I’ll give some more specific use cases in another post that will explain how these high level characteristics play out in the collaboration space.

In the meantime, can you give me an example of organisations implementing collaboration that demonstrates the second (brand new functionality, not better functionality) or third characteristic (new patterns of collaboration)?

The Video Effect

Some new research suggests that videoconferencing is less effective because it distorts decision making but I’m not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Perhaps this is really the effect of using videoconferencing with people who are only used to a one-way interaction with television? You know, the type of people who actually believe what television news tells them about the world.

On the other hand, will people who are now used to consuming user-generated content be more likely to avoid being mesmerised by people presenting on videoconference?

And, if we know about this problem, can we help to train and educate users to overcome it?

McKinsey & Company, MISAustralia & Ross Dawson on balancing the reality of Web 2.0

Not sure how I missed this from McKinsey & Company research report on Web 2.0 in business from back in July, however none the less it makes interesting reading. They report:

that after an initial period of promise and trial, companies are coming to understand the difficulty of realizing some of Web 2.0’s benefits. Only 21 percent of the respondents say they are satisfied overall with Web 2.0 tools, while 22 percent voice clear dissatisfaction. Further, some disappointed companies have stopped using certain technologies altogether.

However, they also conclude from the data that those companies that do feel they are getting benefits from Web 2.0 technologies, it has nothing do with size or region – there are other factors (I suspect that are organisational) at play. I was also pleased to see that RSS use is still growing, although wonder if this is sophisticated use as Enterprise RSS or simply publishing a few feeds.

Putting that into the local Australian context is this article in MISAustralia. Hat tip to Ross, who is also interviewed as part of the article, who correctly comments on his own blog that:

The reality is that these tools are being used, primarily because they are allowing people to work more effectively. However there are real constraints for organizations in how they can be used, including security, confidentiality, and integration with existing systems.

Many organizations still need to recognize that these tools are a reality. That done, they can establish effective governance guidelines, and allow the use of these tools to develop within clear parameters, but without the rigid structure that stifles innovation. The balance is challenging to achieve, but the rewards are high.

Naturally,I think the Intranet 2.0 strategic framework I’ve described is part of that reflection process that the people in organisations who acting as the champions for enterprise social computing and Web 2.0 need to make – they need honestly evaluate what they are really doing and make a proactive choice about where they want to go. As a word of caution, and reflecting both the McKinsey & Company report and Ross’ comments, I recently came across an organisation where they had installed but then almost switched off all their internal social computing tools. A few champions only just managed to save the day.

Larry Cannell on the influence of Web 2.0 on intranets

I think Larry Cannell from the Burton Group starts off with a strong thesis in this presentation about the influence of Web 2.0 on intranets, which makes it worth looking at even if I’m a little unsure about the rest.

I like the way he describes at the impact of Web 2.0 as “spoiling” users by focusing on them, while intranets are focused on transactions. In a way you can even conceive that the communication role of intranets is transactional – e.g. come here, read this and now go away.

He also makes some good points about the tendency to over secure information in organisations. However, that particular discussion actually has value regardless of the technology – e.g. there are operational benefits even in some document management systems for opening up access to information and keeping the security model simple.

I’ve also always said that successful portals combine the information and resources that the organisation needs employees to see, with the stuff employees want to see – and its the employee wants that will act as a anchor to keep them coming back to use it. This really is where the Web 2.0 experience of usability and functionality can teach the enterprise a thing or two.

As we well know, for knowledge workers at least, work isn’t just about completing transactions. No wonder there is a fundamental mismatch between intranets and what their users need. Perhaps the simple rule for Intranet 2.0 is to treat its users as customers?

A practical Intranet 2.0 strategic framework

You might have a detected a change in mood here on this blog in recent posts, particularly in relation to that thing we call Enterprise 2.0/enterprise social computing?

Really there isn’t a change in mood as such, but I do feel we are reaching a point where the hype around this stuff is beginning to disappear and it is time to look seriously at how we go about really putting it into productive practice (for example, Luis’ focus on freeing us from a dependency on the inbox). As Samuel Driessen comments on another recent post on this topic:

the current tools support the old KM theory in a better way by: be more usable, easier to adopt, more social, offer more communication channels.

I don’t actually want to get into the Knowledge Management vs Enterprise 2.0 debate again, but speaking more generally and about intranets specifically, I have to agree that we’ve simply never had it so good before. For example, just look at what Nathan has achieved here in Australia. I’m still not sure if I agree its an example of Enterprise 2.0, but that really doesn’t matter if there is a positive business outcome, which there clearly is in this case.

And here is the problem – the reality is that many organisations aren’t going to reach the idealistic goals of Enterprise 2.0, at least not yet – but you know, that is probably ok. If we are ready to shift our focus and assumptions about intranets away from static content publishing, then what we do have is some cool and exciting new (and not so new) technologies on hand that can improve the way people work with information and how they connect with each other. But in doing that, we need to avoid the risk of setting expectations too high. So how do we do that?

Well, for those of you who haven’t yet read it please take a look at my Intranet 2.0 article, which is now available for download (PDF, 185KB) – this is the unedited version and is a little longer than the one published in Image & Data Manager (IDM) magazine. It reflects my thinking on this space that has been developing over the last year or so with the objective of developing a practical Intranet 2.0 strategic framework.

As always I would love to hear your comments.

In the meantime, maybe I can find something else to blog about 😉

Building a community of customers on-line

I was digging through some old electronic files this morning and came across an article I wrote that was aimed at small business owners, however I’m not actually sure if it was ever published online anywhere. The file is date stamped from September 2003… which will explain why it doesn’t mention any of the current buzz words. Some of the ideas might be considered common knowledge now, but then again after the recent NAB experience with My Future Bank, you have to wonder! Read through and you’ll find a simple three step model for building trust (Encouraging, Demonstrating and Contributing). Enjoy!


Building a community of customers on-line

What to do once your Web site has been built has been the perennial challenge for e-commerce. Selling on the Web might work for some, but on-line stores aren’t for everyone. In most cases you still need to deliver your product or service in the real world. Meanwhile Web hosting, domain names and graphic design all cost money. Should you just keep your fingers crossed and write your World Wide Web presence off as an advertising expense?

An alternative is to stop thinking about trying to sell on-line and instead to start treating your customers as an on-line community. The potential for Internet communities exists wherever Web users share something in common. What could your customers have in common? Perhaps it’s an everyday business problem, a social issue or a shared leisure activity. For example there is an accounting firm that has created a community around a free on-line footy tipping competition – it has nothing do with the services they sell but it builds goodwill with their clients.

Whatever it is, if the success of your business depends on building trust and recognition with your customers, then tapping into this social capital might help you in terms of the following:

  • Becoming your customer’s preferred supplier or service provider;
  • Getting additional referrals;
  • Building stronger working relationships with your customers; and
  • Providing a way of obtaining feedback that can generate new product ideas or sales opportunities.

Don’t use e-mail like a sledgehammer

Unfortunately some businesses that try to build a Web-based customer community take a sledgehammer approach. They gather a subscriber list and then bombard it with e-mails that don’t provide anything of value or interest. Opt-in e-mail marketing is fine if your objective is to advertise, but it is unlikely to build trust or loyalty with your customers.

In an on-line community people will volunteer themselves to be a part of it – there is no need to coerce. The members get something from participation – not the offer of a 10% discount on something they don’t want.

Building trust with an on-line community

It is important to avoid the temptation to rush the process of building trust with an on-line community. These relationships need to be nurtured over time by demonstrating a genuine interest in the community and what the participants hold in common.

Typically this process takes place over three stages:

  1. Encouraging – Inviting new members to join;
  2. Demonstrating – Showing commitment to the community’s interests by providing information and resources relevant to them; and
  3. Contributing – With time your customers begin to reciprocate and will give information and resources back to you and their virtual community.

Do you really want a customer community?

If this sounds like a lot of work, well it is; no one said building an on-line customer community would be easy! However, if you think this idea would benefit your business, make sure you are willing to invest the time and effort required, and make use of the professionals who can help you to build your site, write content and plan the development of your on-line community.

A bad Web site might just waste your money, but a poor attempt at creating an on-line customer community will definitely do your business more harm than good.

LOL. Wikis are *old* technology

I had just posted this and then a funny thought came to me:

LOL. Wikis are *old* technology.

Lotus Notes first appeared in 1989, but has much old roots of course. Meanwhile the WWW was invented in 1990, although it also origin backs in the 1980s. And of course the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was developed in 1994 and released into the wild in 1995.

So really, Wikis are an old technology, just as much as the old man of groupware, Lotus Notes. Except they’ve only been recently discovered by the business world. And as such, many  of the patterns of Enterprise 2.0 attributed to Wikis really aren’t that revolutionary. Actually, thinking about it further, the UI of most Wikis, particularly Mediawiki, aren’t that great. And I have heard stories of users struggling with the Wiki interface just like any other kind of information technology. For its part, when its comes to collaboration, SharePoint isn’t revolutionary either – just very popular!

If you have read or listened to any of my ideas on Intranet 2.0 you’ll know that I’ve divided that world into three main strategies:

  1. Tactical (some social media in place, such as the odd Wiki or blog here and there);
  2. Web-Orientated Intranets; and
  3. (True) Enterprise 2.0.

So, how a about this: Stop claiming that Wikis = Enterprise 2.0, and I’ll stop going on about Lotus Notes. The only time that a Wiki is part of Enterprise 2.0 is when it is part of a greater Enterprise 2.0 ecosystem (i.e. there is evidence of SLATES) and a parallel organisational evolution taking place is observed.

Deal? 😉