Are You Ready for Web 2.0?
By Paul Lima | August 31, 2006
His new product, the Colligo Reader, allows users to download Microsoft Windows SharePoint portal information, read offline, add comments to threads, and upload when they next connect to the Internet. The product is a simple way for mobile teams to access, modify, and share data from corporate applications, even when they have no access to the Internet or corporate servers.
To create awareness, he set up a blog and discovered a community of people interested in talking about how to use SharePoint offline. The blog, SharePointOffline (www.sharepointoffline.com), is a "category blog," not a promotional blog, said Jinks. "We are clear this is a Colligo blog but people can say what they like, and don't like, about us and our product. And the competition can talk about their products. This has to be a very open blog. That's how you build credibility in the blogsphere. It's the responsibility that comes with the [blog] real estate."
Before launching the blog, Jinks had signed up 100 Colligo product beta testers over three months. He signed up 50 new beta testers within 10 days of launching his blog. One of the beta testers works for a European company that represents the potential sale of several thousand licenses. "This obviously is working," said Jinks.
Considering that there are millions of blogs out there, what does blogging have to do with Web 2.0? In many ways, it's a matter of pundits labeling a trend and then forecasting its impact. While the term Web 2.0 may seem like an artificial phrase, the Web has evolved.
"Web 2.0 is a non-linear extrapolation that combines functionality, information, and collective knowledge in new and meaningful ways, all facilitated by technology," said David Senf, Canadian software research manager with IDC (Canada). It may sound like hype, but Web 2.0 is happening now, although many of the business models still need to be ironed out.
With blogs, portals, discussion forums, product review sites, and online collaboration tools, many Websites are no longer static electronic brochures that people read. They are electronic communities where people interact. Coupled with Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds that notify people when new content is available, online communities-one aspect of what analysts are calling Web 2.0-is changing the way that businesses reach, and interact, with customers, and how many products and online applications are developed.
Web 2.0 is a combination of hype and existing technologies that allow Web users to interact, said Kerry Munro, Yahoo! Canada general manager. Instead of jumping on the Web, picking up a bit of information, and jumping off, Web surfers with always on broadband hang out at portals, he said. Yahoo! visitors can customize content based on their interests, participate in Yahoo! groups that reflect their interests, and use Yahoo! instant messaging and email to converse. These days, conversations often include the sharing of reviews, images, music, and videos with like-minded friends and associates, Munro added.
Recognizing that Web users expect a richer, more interactive online experience, Yahoo! purchased del.icio.us (www.delicious.com), a site that lets visitors store and share links to their favorite articles, blogs, music, restaurant reviews, and other content. As sharing increases, credibility becomes important, Munro said. "And users now determine credibility." On Yahoo! Answers, for examples, individuals can ask questions and rate those who supply answers-much like eBay buyers rate eBay sellers. In that way, Yahoo! Answers and eBay members have become self-policing communities.
"In Web 2.0, the cream rises to the top," Munro said. Whether they participate in Yahoo! Answers, other information portals, or create their own blogs and forums, business owners need to know that their credibility is at stake. "If you claim to be the world's best widget manufacturer and Web chatter runs contrary to your claims, then you have a problem," he said.
"The jury is still out regarding Web 2.0 business models, but reputations are at stake because Web 2.0 provides a different level of transparency," he added.
Community members do not have to interact directly with each other to aid businesses. Instead, technology can be used to gather and share information. Amazon.com uses the purchasing patterns of some customers to influence the purchasing decisions of others. For example Amazon lets Harry Potter book buyers know what other books been purchased by those who have previously bought Harry Potter books.
To succeed in a Web 2.0 environment, businesses need give customers an opportunity to interact with each other and find ways to let customers know what others are thinking and doing-all while maintaining security and respecting privacy, said Jeff Zado, senior product manager of developer tools for Microsoft Canada Mississauga. With access to more customer data "comes increased responsibilities around security and privacy" and as Web 2.0 evolves, businesses will have to respect security and privacy if they want to build and maintain trust and credibility.
This sense of community can also be used in the development of products, said Rob Redford, technology marketing vice president with Cisco Systems Inc. Technology developers now use online collaboration tools to test products and share results instantaneously. "There is no more developing a product, presenting papers at conferences, and then waiting for feedback," he said.
The development of open source applications, such as Linux, has demonstrated how collaborative technology can be used to develop and enhance products. Having learned from the open source community, enterprises now use collaborative tools to test and revise products in-house. Many, including Microsoft and Google, have taken the process a step further by putting beta versions online and asking for input from their user community. However, you don't have to by a huge, publicly-trade company to learn from your users, said Jinks, who set up his blog, in part, to find out what features potential users would want to see in a SharePoint reader.
Web 2.0 also includes the way in which "various Websites can be mashed into new creations," said Senf. For instance, Housingmaps.com lets users see the prices of properties and rentals available in various cities. It uses a Web 2.0 process known as Small Pieces Loosely Joined (SPLJ) to link information from Google Maps with data from Craiglist (www.craiglist.org), a classifieds ads website, to produce a new, Web-integrated application-one that is not run or owned by either Google or Craiglist.
Of course, the economics of mash-ups, like the economics of much of Web 2.0, still need to be sorted out. "Who is going to make any money and how do you make it? That's the multi-million dollar question. It's a jump ball at this point," said Senf.
However, if the short history of the Internet is any indication, companies will, over time, sort out licensing arrangements, and put in place payment systems. Google's AdSense, paying mere pennies per click, has already helped a number of companies and communities monetize content-much of it generated by visitors. And, as Jinks quickly discovered, opening a company's doors to honest input from its community can enhance marketing and sales.
In short, Web 2.0 may be a coined phrase, but it is also a way of using online tools in a creative and collaborative manner. Software and hardware developers, researchers and scientists, businesses-especially those with an online customer base-not-for-profit groups, and even political organizations, better wrap their heads around Web 2.0, or they will find themselves stuck in a 1999 frame of mind.