Several weeks ago, I gave a talk at the local meeting of the Association of Legal Administrators . They had asked me to discuss Web 2.0, and what it might mean for business. This is what I discussed. ( Here is the handout that I prepared for my talk. )
While there are numerous articles and postings floating about the Internet regarding Web 2.0, most of them focus on the technical differences. From a business perspective, there are four things that distinguish legacy Web-based applications from Web 2.0. They are:
- In-browser responsiveness
- Always-on services
- Pull vs Push
- Finer Granularity
The fact that Web browsers have matured, and are capable of doing a lot more than simply viewing Web pages has made the difference here. One of the big changes here is that Web browsers can now handle much of the graphical experience directly. In other words, you are now able to use techniques like “drag and drop”, “double-click”, and “wizards” in Web applications. This has resulted in Web applications that are just as functional as the applications that run directly. However, you also get the advantage of being able to run these applications from anywhere that has an Internet connection, and without worrying about the specific operating system of your computer.
In the past several years, broadband access to the Internet has become quite prevalent in business regions. This means that businesses can access Web applications quickly and reliably. Similarly servers and clustering technology has matured, which means that hosted services have become much more stable. These two factors combine to result in an environment that provides Web applications 24×7, with no increased cost for when and how long they are accessed. This small change has resulted in a shift to the working day, where employees are spending increasing amounts of time online, both at work and at home.
Pull vs Push
In the old days, if you wanted up-to-date information, you would either have to check Web pages manually or step outside of the Web and get your updates via email. Now, however, there are technologies such as RSS/ATOM, which allows you to subscribe to various information sources. This small shift from the user needing to go to the information to where the information comes to the user has dramatically accelerated information exchange on the Web. This allows social networks to be built and extended much more quickly than word of mouth or email/usenet-based networks. This results in a social amplification effect, where if something of interest occurs, it quickly becomes more positive or negative depending on the number of people that pick up the story and discuss it within their social networks.
Much as children graduate from large building blocks to smaller ones as they grow, we have seen the parts of which the Web is built shrink over the last few years. From a technical perspective, this allows people to build increasingly complex applications. From a non-technical perspective, this means that applications are quickly extended and can grow very quickly. Competition occurs at a more rapid pace, and services must compete on ease-of-use, as functionality is easily duplicated.
So, what does all this mean to business? First of all, the fact that these services exist and are available everywhere means that your employees can be more productive working at home. However, the flip side of this, is that they can just as easily access their personal systems from work. There are two common ways to deal with this challenge.
- Ban you employees from working on personal items at work.
- Allow employees to work on what they wish when they wish, but hold them accountable to deadlines and other measurable goals.
Most companies are selecting the first option, which is regrettable, as productivity often increases with the second. Additionally, high-performing employees may be attracted to companies following option two, leaving companies that follow option one with a staff of people that need to be micromanaged — at a higher management cost.
The other concern about using Web 2.0 in business is that of data control and ownership. If you are using a service, then the data involved is often stored outside of your environment. This means that you cannot backup the data or control who sees it. Sadly, there are few ways to address this problem, so I just suggest that you look at the SLA of any service before you commit your business to it. Eventually, I am certain that these services will allow you greater control of your data.
Lastly, I encourage you all to take a look around and decide how your company will use Web 2.0, because if you don’t, then your employees will decide for you.