Business & Finance
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10/26/2007
09:45 AM
Andy Dornan
Andy Dornan
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Growing Pains: Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into An Enterprise Technology?

Wikis, mashups, social networking, and even Second Life can have a place in business, but they need to improve legacy interoperability--and IT needs to overcome its skepticism.

WIKI WISH LIST
"It's awful having an artificial distinction between a wiki and a CMS," says Aaron Hathaway, CIO at investment bank Prager, Sealy & Co. In common with most of the users in our poll, he sees wikis as having greater use within enterprises than other Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs. Wikis' other big attraction is that, in keeping with their collaborative nature, almost all of them are free.

Hathaway started using wikis four years ago to manage the IT department's internal documentation, but soon saw that the technology could be more widely applicable. In 2005, he decided to roll out TWiki, a popular enterprise wiki whose other users include Yahoo and British Telecom.

It was a decision Hathaway came to regret in fairly short order.

chart: ... In With The New: Are these tools very important or critical to your organization?
The problem was that TWiki couldn't easily share data with Alfresco, the bank's open source CMS. Users who needed information had to look in both, while those adding documents risked duplicating effort. The bank didn't want to give up on either, so Hathaway turned instead to Deki Wiki, which is also open source but backed by a commercial vendor, MindTouch. Deki's Web services API eases integration with other applications.

"It means a Google map can show up on a Deki page, and we're building an über-search," he says. "In my ideal setup, Deki would be a front end to Alfresco." The API also lets the wiki use the bank's existing security architecture to limit user access to specific pages, important for preserving the wall between analysis and sales. According to Hathaway, the wiki is now providing a real return on investment.

A wiki is easier to use than a full CMS, but on its own it can't yet provide some CMS functionality, such as working with documents and files. This has led several wikis to add extension capabilities, such as Deki Wiki's API. TWiki also has a plug-in system that lets programmers extend it without editing source code; more than 200 modules are already available to cover applications such as calendaring and automated editing. The most ambitious is IBM's QEDWiki, which aims to be a platform for user-created mashups and other simple applications, rather than just content. The mashup aspect empowers users even more than the "edit" button and also helps integrate the wiki with IBM's other applications.

Still, companies like Prager, Sealy can't abandon their content management systems just yet, and the most popular collaboration platform remains Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint also is at the center of Microsoft's online Office Live strategy, best described as "software plus service." Rather than a Google-style suite of online apps that would compete with its own products, Microsoft sells SharePoint and Outlook as services, with a subset of the full functionality soon to be available at no cost. Users still need a client-side application to edit documents, theoretically giving them the best of both worlds--and preserving Microsoft's Office revenue stream.

A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE NETWORK?
Of all Web 2.0 technologies, social networking is the one that gets vendors and venture capitalists most excited. At least 17 startups are pitching social networking technology to business customers (see table, Social Networking Technology Startups), while countless social networking Web sites are chasing individual users. But it's also the one about which our readers are most skeptical: When asked to rate the value of technologies, 68% say that public social networking sites are of no use at all. Only 5% rate any kind of social networking as very useful.

Still, one type of company finds these public sites very exciting: recruiters.

"We have great expectations for Facebook," says Jason Blessing, general manager of the small and midsize business division at recruitment service provider Taleo. "The thing we really like is that it has a heritage from the top universities, and it's a place where the Gen Y's or millennials like to hang out." His company rolled out a Web service that its SMB customers use to advertise jobs through Facebook's API, letting users recommend their friends (or friends of friends of friends) for specific positions.

Rather than joining the big social networking sites, many enterprises are trying to compete with them. Though few respondents to our poll have yet added social networking to their Web sites, many of the startups pitching the technology have scored big-name customers. The media industry is particularly well-represented among clients of companies like KickApps and Leverage Software, with newspapers and TV stations trying to find a way to keep their audiences interested. The panic is driven by surveys showing that people under 24 prefer user-generated content and connections with others over traditional media.

Other enterprises can benefit from setting up social networks as a means to communicate with customers--and let customers communicate with one another. The big question for enterprises: Do we buy dedicated social networking technology or wait until it becomes a standard feature of Web servers and hosting services?

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