Web 2.0, like many technology buzzwords, is a term that people love to use but, when asked, have trouble defining what it really means. Is it a hot new software application that all the kids can't wait to get their hands on? Is it a legitimate trend or a marketing ploy? Or does it just sound really cool in a headline?
"Web 2.0" can mean anything or nothing, depending on whom you ask. Since it was coined in 2004, it's been applied to everything from Wikipedia and YouTube right down to any company with its own message board.
According to Wikipedia, "Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second generation of Internet-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users."
Regardless of definition, every corner of the web and enterprise technology spectrum is trying to cash in on the Web 2.0 promise (and hype), including content and knowledge management. Static corporate intranets, crowded with indexes, files, and folders, are being infiltrated by a host of web-based applications designed to make them more dynamic and interactive. In the not-so-distant future, your office network might look a little less like Windows Office and a little more like MySpace.
What you get when you combine your company's CMS solution with Web 2.0 tools could be called "Collaboration 2.0." Collaboration in the office isn't anything new, but a number of digital content tool developers have realized that corporate communication is content in its own right. That means, like effective intranets, the work process needs to be easy for workers to initiate and manage on their own in order to encourage participation and interaction.
These 2.0 Collaboration systems borrow from a Web 2.0 toolbox full of internet-based applications that can bring ideas and information together in a user-friendly, web-based workspace. So while your average employee might not know the definition of Web 2.0, users will know it—and like it—when they see it.
There's no crystal clear demarcation line between where Web 1.0 leaves off and Web 2.0 begins, and Collaboration 2.0 is based upon a combination of tools that address a wide variety of users and applications. At WCM vendor Ektron, COO Ed Rogers says, "You can think of our system as a box of Legos. How you communicate, collaborate, and exchange ideas depends on how you put the Legos together."
Web-savvy employees, particularly younger ones, have probably already read a wiki, managed a MySpace page, or tinkered with a blog on their own time. The challenge for collaboration tool creators is to take those same applications and piece them together to fit within an office dynamic.
Wiki While You Work
Enterprise wikis have slowly increased in popularity over the past few years, usually originating in tech-savvy IT departments or for specific team-based efforts, and then spreading throughout an organization as their ease of use and effectiveness becomes apparent. But wiki poster child Wikipedia is the Wild West compared to enterprise wikis, which must maintain corporate behavioral and content standards while trying to encourage a more public forum.
Enterprise wiki creators like Socialtext build multiple layers of security into wiki solutions in order to help support a more structured environment. User privileges are adjusted to reflect projects' need-to-know constraints, and content can go from private to public and back again to shield sensitive details. Socialtext wikis are generally hosted, but companies can choose to host data in-house for extra security.
Yet by their nature, wikis aren't meant to keep people out. The goal is to bring everyone into the information arena. To that end, some believe that wikis will replace email and shared Word documents as the main forum for collaboration between teams.
"We use wikis to document an evolving product under development," explains Michael Krieg, vice president of sales and marketing at Web Crossing Inc., a creator (and user) of office collaboration tools. "Before this technology, achieving this level of communication would have required untold amounts of paper, postage, meetings, travel budgets, conference calls, and the time required to coordinate it all."
Within a wiki space, editing and HTML are stripped down to the bare essentials, so that the processes of linking pages, creating data tables, and editing information don't consume workers' time. "Wikis don't impose structure up front," said Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext. "Instead, it lets the structure of the collaboration emerge as a by-product of actually doing work."
One of Socialtext's main enterprise wiki platform competitors, JotSpot, was recently purchased by Google, only a few weeks after the search giant paid over a billion dollars for YouTube. The JotSpot acquisition didn't receive the headlines that the YouTube deal did, but it adds JotSpot's wiki-building technology to the growing stable of Google's web-based collaborative technologies. Already, Google users can create and edit one another's spreadsheets and calendars. When the JotSpot acquisition is complete, some speculate that Google will be bringing free wikis to workers to round out its web-based office offerings.