I got the, don’t take the Web 2.0 out of Web 2.0 blues

To me, discussing Web 2.0 in an abstract way without reference to technology is an odd thing to do.

I should premise this statement that in IMHO, no technology exists in a vacuum. However, my viewpoint has been influenced by systems thinking and socio-technical systems theory. In this complex view of the world, technology is as much related to its environment as what we might traditionally think of as the separate social or organisational parts.

So for me, Web 2.0 has never just been about the technology. And its why I get little confused when I hear people talking about Web 2.0 and related themes, like Government 2.0, in an abstract way that attempts to push the technology into the background. Neither the social or technical parts of the system take priority, because they are related.

However, on one level this desire to push the technology of Web 2.0 into the background can be understood by observing how the meaning of ‘2.0’ has changed over time. While Tim O’Reilly might have assigned quite a specific meaning to Web 2.0, the only commonality left in how we all use it now is that “two do oh” might be best described as short hand for ‘paradigm shift’ (and yeah, its quickly become past its marketing sell by date).

Listening to people to discuss the meaning of Government 2.0 for example, I can see how it can be either read as Web 2.0 in Government or as a broader paradigm shift in our approach to Government (or perhaps somewhere in between). There is no right or wrong answer here of course… its always about how people use it and interpret meaning.

But even if we stick with a meaning that is closer to the original, I can also see that there are a number of good reasons why people want to down play the technology – for example:

  • As part of the change process for adopting Web 2.0, its better to talk about the organisational benefits and social outcomes first, and introduce the technology later;
  • So that Web 2.0 can be conceptualised and discussed in a broader organisational or social context, e.g. Human Resource Management or Open Government.

However, I sense there are others that simply believe ‘people’ are a more important factor than ‘technology’ (the get the people right and the technology will follow theory – as bad as the other side of the coin, build it and they will come theory) or that it is easier to work at an abstracted level that is focused on manifest behaviours and outcomes (the Web as a black box theory of social media).

The trouble with abstracting the technology out of Web 2.0 for those reasons only becomes a problem when you try to take action on strategies or plans based on those assumptions. Unfortunately if this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t see failed examples of social media and social computing out there (and I suspect its one reason why there is storm brewing for reductionist social media consultants).

So, what can we do to bridge this gap between not getting technical but appreciating the relationship with the technology? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Talk in patterns, not specific tools or platforms;
  2. Use real life examples and stories to demonstrate the technology, but explain the outcomes and benefits of that particular technology (but be careful never to pitch them as ‘solutions’); and
  3. Let people learn by doing – let them use social software to solve a real problem.

Don’t hide Web 2.0 away like some embarrassment. Eventually, that skeleton in the closet will get out, and its not going to be pretty (I’m talking about, selling the idea of ‘participation’ but then simply pointing them at Wikipedia and telling them to just go do it).

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An open invitation to share your knowledge with the ICTI community

On Wednesday night this week we held the official launch of ICT Illawarra (ICTI), an information and communication technology cluster for the Illawarra region in southern New South Wales, Australia. This was an important first milestone for ICTI and we were all quite excited as we were expecting up to 60-70 people to attend the launch – an absolutely fantastic turn out for an event like this in a small city like Wollongong:

The University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Gerard Sutton and I (as the president of the ICTI association) gave a brief introduction and then handed over firstly to the Hon. David Campbell (NSW Minister for Transport and Minister for the Illawarra) and then our key note speaker, Bob Hayward from CSC.

Bob is a very experience IT entrepreneur who was recently appointed as Chief Technology & Innovation Officer APJ at CSC. He is also on the AIIA board and is the co-founder of AsiaOnline. Bob’s presentation was received very well – so a big public thank you to him for taking the time to help us with the launch.

I know the audience for this blog spans many geographies, but if you happen to be in Wollongong or know someone in the area, please remember that you would be most welcome to join us at any of our networking meetings in the future – dates for this year are already locked in.

We actually have some ideas for future meetings based the ICTI board’s own experiences with alternative meeting formats, such as BarCamp and Growth Town. So for those of you who live and work outside of the South Coast area, if you have some knowledge, ideas or opportunities you are willing to share we have a group of motivated ICT businesses that would love to meet you.

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Consuming conversations and information – guess what, we have choice

If you missed it, Lee wrote a great response to what (to be frank) was a pretty dumb post from Steve Gillmor about the death of RSS (again). I think the majority of people interested in this stuff understand that RSS is an essential part of the plumbing, but I think what Gillmor really missed was that just because he uses it one way that doesn’t mean that’s how everyone else wants to use it (a point central to Lee‘s argument) or will in fact end up using it as these social techologies continue to evolve and become more broadly adopted. The wonderful thing about RSS of course is that it doesn’t matter how people access it – we have a common’ish enough protocol in RSS (and other standards) to help us join data, information and all these wonderful social tools together. Choice is great isn’t it?

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Time for an upgrade? Wiki 2.0

It probably won’t come as any surprise to hear that I agree with this point made by Gil Yehuda in a recent post* about the take up and maturity of Enterprise 2.0:

“For me at least, having a wiki, forum, blogs, etc. on the intranet and using a wiki, forum, blog effectively to improve the transparency and productivity of collaboration are very different indicators of progress.”

I’m just waiting for other people to ‘get it’ that not only does simply installing the odd social computing application mean very little, but they can also be used in very different ways – a while ago I called this the grey area problem. It doesn’t mean using social computing tools this way is useful or beneficial, its just not really what we imagined Enterprsie 2.0 would be like.

Similarly, Yehuda also points to a new wiki case study on Boxes and Arrows, where Matthew C. Clarke draws distinction between public, team and enterprise wikis. Yehuda chips in his two cents worth again and puts forwards an alternative break down of:

“1. enterprise-wide transparency 2. departmental-wide unity 3. team-wide coordination 4. project-wide activity (which may or may not be the same as team) 5. individual productivity enhancement tools (profile, streams, bookmarks, etc.)”.

These are nice break downs, even if some what two-dimensional, but I’ll support any kind of thinking that takes us beyond thinking that a wiki is a wiki is a wiki. What I mean is that its a combination what (is the tool), how (are they using it) and who (is using it).

Clarke also makes a good point about wikis disappearing:

“I predict that Wikis will disappear over the next 5 to 10 years. This is not because they will fail but precisely because they will succeed. The best technologies disappear from view because they become so common-place that nobody notices them. Wiki-style functionality will become embedded within other software – within portals, web design tools, word processors, and content management systems. Our children may not learn the word “Wiki,” but they will be surprised when we tell them that there was a time when you couldn’t just edit a web page to build the content collaboratively.”

Really what he is saying that wiki will become more of a verb and less a noun. However, again I’m not sure its good enough to add wiki-like page editing functionality to an information tool and expect it to behave like a social computing tool suddenly (if that’s your intent). I think what’s more interesting is the evolution of enterprise wikis, as they add other types of social computing features. Other social computing platforms may also threaten these wiki-based solutions by adding the capability to manage pages and documents. But in the race to be all things to all people, I really hope that the social computing technology thought leaders don’t lose their way.

Hmm. Wiki 2.0 anyone?

*Hat tip to Greg Lloyd on the Social Media Today blog.

UPDATE: Nice response post from Mark Gould.

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Don’t just spend less on IT, spend smart

Last Friday, writing for the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (“Anxious CIOs keep tight hold of the purse strings”, 8/5/09, p.53), Mark Jones reported on what he called “a dramatic downturn in corporate and government IT spending.

Mark included some quotes from a recent interview with Fiona Balfour, former Qantas and Telstra CIO, and Steve Hodgkinson, research director at Ovum, for his The Scoop podcast. However, listening to the podcast its not just simply a case of no spending. Instead, as Mark hints at in the headline for his article, these IT commentators suggest that its more about tightening controls on how and where money is spent. In practice, they say, this means organisations need to revise their plans to suit the new financial environment by focusing on delivering business outcomes (although you have to wonder what they were doing before, then?) and controlling the complexity of their IT systems.

Personally, when ever I hear talk about ‘standardisation’ and ‘out of the box’ I immediately think of the impact on end-users (or if you want to take a more hard nosed perspective, lets call it a negative outcome for group and individual productivity). While this won’t show up on the business case or the IT budget, I have no doubt that it will come down to people to fill the gaps in these apparently economically sound solutions. This means email volumes will continue to grow, more spreadsheet-based applications will appear and in the worst cases – where users are left with no options to ‘hack’ their solutions together – these systems will actually fail to meet their objective. And along the way, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of frustrated and ultimately unproductive people. Some of those unhappy people will be your customers too.

At the end of the podcast, Hodgkinson suggests enterprises look at the Web 2.0 cloud computing model and bring that approach inside the firewall, in terms of ideas like light touch, self-provisioning, etc. Unfortunately, Mark didn’t have time explore this line of thought but I think an enterprise Web 2.0 inspired approach is the counter balance to the problems a tightly constrained IT system will create.

This will require a little bit of out of the box thinking (dare I say it, ‘innovation’). This doesn’t mean you need to rip out your ERP system and replace it with Facebook. If this is what you think, then you really are missing the point. Its actually about enhancing and augmenting complex transactional systems with lightweight solutions so that the productivity gap I describe above can be managed as an above the line item in terms of:

  • Supporting conversational collaboration (to help with problem solving and dealing with the bumps rigid transactional systems create or have been designed to support);
  • Enhancing information management, by adding social networking and social information discovery layers; and
  • Leverage data and information from underlying transactional systems into these social computing layers.

If you happen to be a CEO reading this and your CIO gives a business case or plan based on constraint and control, make sure you ask them what’s their strategy for helping staff and customers deal with the rigid, narrow systems they are proposing. Maybe that great TCO isn’t so attractive after all?

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