Business needs to grasp Web 2.0

Web 2.0 and social networking literally draw a crowd.

During our Computerworld Live Tour breakfast on Feb. 20 at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto something of an attendance record was set for the number of IT professionals drawn to one of our morning technology discussions. A grand total of 109 folks came to hear the insights of Web Evangelist (yes, that’s his real title) Aaron Kim and Senior Management Consultant Kathryn Everest of IBM Canada as they discussed the mysteries of one of today’s most significant business IT trends – Web 2.0 and social networking. The topic was definitely a hot one.

Much of the conversation focused on where these technology concepts had a fit with business in general and what are the particular redeeming values. A lot was said and many examples of Web 2.0 applications and programs were provided. Even more illustrations of social networking communities and properties were discussed. But at the end of the day, I suspect most people walked away with more questions than answers. These are difficult topics to address in a succinct and complete way. You can’t cover all the ground in a three-hour morning. And the deeper you dig into the what, how-to and why of Web 2.0 and social networking, the more you realize that there is way more than you might think to be discussed and considered.

Most of our Live Tour discussion on this day focused on people issues rather than the processes and tools. Attendees heard that successful adoption is not simply building Web 2.0 applications and processes or in the leveraging of existing social networking tools and resources, but more importantly it’s in changing a working culture so that it both understands and more importantly willingly embraces and uses Web 2.0 and social networking to achieve value for the business.

There’s no magic formula or universal approach to adopting Web 2.0, other than the general view that it’s probably best to start on something small, with an internal group. And the fact is that most businesses will probably initially fail before ultimately striking upon success. Kim brought up the great example of online communal knowledge centre Wikipedia and how it was a failure for three years. Coincidentally, however, the same company building Wikipedia was also engaged in a secondary online encyclopedia project and the content created in that project was ultimately used to seed Wikipedia. That’s when things exploded and Wikipedia took off. The lesson learned here was that you often need to kick start — in this case with content — most Web 2.0/social networking projects. Simply building it doesn’t guarantee they’ll come and, in fact, they probably won’t.

There were lots of other great lessons and examples. Kim succinctly pointed out why businesses should care about Web 2.0 and social networking. The most obvious and perhaps most important reason is simply that a businesses clients and employees are demanding it, particularly those from the younger (sub-30-year-old) age demographic. “By 2010, 40 per cent of the workforce will be [from a current age group that is 30-years-old and under],” Kim said. They grew up with computers and the Internet.

That’s reason enough for businesses to quickly embrace Web 2.0 and social networking, and figure these things out fast.

Here’s a link to the presentations given at this Live Tour session.

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