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8/13/2009
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Global CIO: A CIO's Fear Of Social Networking

IT folk like Stu Laura see Web 2.0 as a giant food fight with unknown outcomes and lots of disharmony. They don’t get it--yet.

Stu doesn't see the Internet as one large online shopping center, where people converge to trade goods and tell stories. He sees it as a delivery vehicle for information and a surprisingly robust platform. Stu is an anal-retentive and, like most ex-military officers, believes in Command and Control. Never mind that MySpace and Facebook have as many members as the population of the United States.

Most people bemoan the fact that IT isn't growing at 12% to 15%, like it was 10 years ago, but grows no faster than the economy. Not Stu. He regards those days like the Wild West, never mind that venture-backed companies from those days (Intel, Apple, Cisco, etc.) are now 20% of U.S. GNP.

Stu, do you distinguish between types of social networks? Isn't Dogster different from Flickr?

"If I'm Purina, what is said about my products on Dogster is probably as important to me as what Gartner is saying about new computers is to IBM. And you bet the honchos at Kodak want to know what sharing photos means to their new Kodak Zi8 and how the pocket video camera is going to catch on with the YouTube set. I even can begin to understand LinkedIn and Plaxo, because those are business networks and expand and extend connections. But I do not understand Twitter, I do not understand BlackPlanet, I do not understand ... too much of it."

We have a disconnect. Marketing wants to understand social networking and jump on board; IT views it as another expensive disruption that is going to complicate their lives, drive up costs, threaten security.

And they're both right.

Management experts are fond of telling us that "change is good." For most people, change is not good; it's bad. Change threatens, convolutes, disrupts. IT folk, like Stu, see Web 2.0 as a giant food fight with unknown outcomes and lots of disharmony. Marketing sees it the same way but says..."so what?" Neither is quite sure what the advantage of having collective intelligence from their customers and partners is ... but shouldn't there be a pony in that heap?

Social networking is one large town hall meeting. Every blog, wiki, mashup poses real threats to hierarchies, which means that power is shifting. It used to be that The Corporate Gods decided ... and the peons accepted. But there has been a palace revolt, and the smart companies are trying to figure this out. Not Stu. Not yet. He isn't ready for mass participation, mass cooperation, or mass collaboration. He probably is in favor of mass suicide.

He'll get it eventually. But not yet.

GlobalCIO Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures, is currently the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He can be reached at handerson@mit.edu.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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