One thing I’ve found in recent months is that if you ask 100 people about “Web 2.0” you’ll get a 100 different definitions for Web 2.0 However I think it’s a safe bet to say that Web 2.0 is based on two general guidelines – one is the use of web-based applications built on development tools such as AJAX, and second is the idea of putting power and control into the hands of the end user. (See Tim O’Reilly’s “What is Web 2.0” for more on the Web 2.0 concept).
The most popular Web 2.0 applications have been user driven; think MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and even BitTorrent. Web 2.0 community applications continue to thrive, such as social tagging / bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us and Technorati. Wikis represent yet another example of putting power in the hands of users and giving them an unstructured framework in which to develop their own uses.
In my conversations with enterprises I’ve found a great deal of interest in Web 2.0, but also a great deal of concern over how Web 2.0 services can or should be deployed.
The enterprise application model in most organizations is the antithesis to Web 2.0, with highly structured highly centralized applications such as office productivity, ERP and CRM systems. Users may have some capabilities to customize views and reports, but for the most part, the applications are locked down and may only be used in a predefined way. This is driven in a large part by two factors, the first being the need to provide application support. It’s next to impossible to support an application that has little or no structure. The second is regulatory and compliance requirements that necessitate archiving, data standardization, and other means to ensure that data can be properly audited or discovered.
Perhaps a third limiting factor for Web 2.0 in the enterprise is that enterprises tend to stick with a limited number of strategic vendors for their application needs (think Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, etc.). In the Web 2.0 space most of the innovation has occurred within startups such as Iotum, SocialText, and the services I mentioned previously.
Thus enterprise organizations struggle with how to take advantage of emerging Web 2.0 applications while avoiding a situation where they may find themselves overloaded with a variety of applications that are difficult to support. This dilemma is also faced by the vendors in the Web 2.0 space. Take a company such as Grand Central for example. Here is a startup that offers a web-based service for incoming call control, enabling an individual to obtain a single phone number and control how calls to that number are routed, even enabling creation of white lists or black lists to block unsolicited inbound calls. Most individuals would jump at the chance to have this kind of control of their phones, but until this feature is baked into the enterprise call control platforms from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and others, adoption in the enterprise market just isn’t going to happen.
So, for enterprises interested in leveraging the capabilities of Web 2.0 the choices are limited. Either sacrifice control and free your users to explore Web 2.0 applications on their own, a choice that just won’t be possible in many highly regulated enterprises, or explore the Web 2.0 space and then demand that your trusted application partners deliver the same features and functionality available in Web 2.0 applications today, or provide development frameworks that let you build your own Web 2.0 capabilities into the applications you already have.
Meanwhile, Web 2.0 will continue to flourish, enterprises that understand the opportunities presented by Web 2.0 and are able to integrate Web 2.0 services where beneficial are the ones that will see the biggest benefit.