IT Survival Guide: Underpinnings Are Key To Web 2.0 In The Workplace - InformationWeek

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Andy Dornan
Andy Dornan

IT Survival Guide: Underpinnings Are Key To Web 2.0 In The Workplace

These new technologies promote communication and collaboration, but they aren't all right for business. Here's what to watch for.

Consumer technology has raced so far ahead of the enterprise that people used to blogs, mashups, and Ajax apps on the Web can feel like they've stepped through a time warp when they face circa 1990s technologies at work. Companies need to adapt, but wisely--not all Web 2.0 technologies are useful in business.

The Web 2.0 label covers a variety of tools, all aimed at helping people communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Most companies will focus on mashups, which mix data from internal and external sources in new ways. Some are simply innovative ways of presenting information, but the most advanced are full-blown apps, with many vendors promoting development platforms aimed at staff without programming experience.

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Other Web 2.0 tools are best kept within an organization's borders. For example, setting up shop in Second Life will be a waste for most businesses, but virtual environments can be useful as a way to host internal meetings, allowing more interaction than voice alone at a lower cost than videoconferencing. The same goes for wikis, which act as straightforward but powerful knowledge management systems.

The Opportunity
Widely available free software and Web services make wikis, blogs, and social networks relatively inexpensive to deploy. Be attentive to development costs associated with giving your site a Web 2.0 makeover.
Employee-created mashups combine public Web services with the skills of Net-savvy staff. Collaboration tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networking can help employees share ideas more quickly, both internally and externally.
The technology works best for companies that have embraced Web services and that have a well-defined security system in place.
At the other extreme, social networking has little use behind the firewall. The killer apps for sites like Facebook or LinkedIn are finding a date and a job, something few businesses want to encourage internally. But the mashup APIs exposed by these sites can be valuable ways to communicate with customers, while businesses that add social networking features to their own sites can encourage customers to communicate with one another.

Web 2.0 means replacing static Web sites with Web services that are accessed through browser-based clients. Every company that aspires to interactivity on the Web needs to evaluate Web 2.0's underlying technologies. Rich Internet apps make most sense in frequently updated parts of sites and areas that require user input.

Ajax, because of its widespread browser support, remains the standard for RIAs. Internal apps that run on IT-controlled platforms can also use Java SE, Curl, Adobe Flex, or Microsoft Silverlight, which are more capable but require plug-ins and may limit choice of browser or operating system. Attempts by Adobe and Google to take RIAs beyond the browser are still immature.

Businesses that already use Web services have an advantage, though a service-oriented architecture alone isn't enough to support RIAs. The bloated XML standards would choke lightweight Ajax apps, leaving their supporting Web services to use ad hoc data formats.

New hardware also may be needed. Well-designed RIAs don't transfer any more data than static Web pages, but they break it into smaller chunks, hammering servers with multiple TCP connections that may transfer just a few bytes each. Dealing with these can require infrastructure upgrades. And servers that host mashup components for the Web need to be able to cope with surges in demand, which virtualization can help.

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