Managing Web 2.0

When speaking to different departments within client organizations about Web 2.0, I’m often reminded of the parable about the blind men and the elephant. The story illustrates our tendency to view issues from a limited perspective and resist developing a holistic viewpoint.
In the parable, a ruler, who wants to demonstrate that so-called wisemen see issues from a limited perspective, presents the tail of the elephant to one blind man, to another its foot, and to another a tusk. He then asks each to tell him what an elephant is. The man who was presented with the tail says it is like a rope, the one who touched the foot says it’s a pillar, the one who felt the tusk says it’s a plough. They then argue with each other until coming to blows.
Similarly, with Web 2.0, we might hear IT say it’s all about open source; Communications might speak about the focus on blogs; and Finance says “The stuff we’re looking at now is cheaper than the stuff we used to look at.” And then they come to blows.
Ok, fisticuffs are never involved, but in too many cases, the departments all touch the element of Web 2.0 that directly effects them—technology, communication models or budgets—but don’t make the effort to pool their knowledge in order to develop a unified vision and a common plan. That means Web 2.0 must be viewed as a critical management challenge—not just a technical or communications issue—one that calls for an organization to take an enterprise-wide approach to evaluating its implications and adopting new management approaches for implementing it.

The Wisdom of Crowds

Coined by O’Reilly Media, Web 2.0 refers to web sites, products or services that are highly interactive, deep in dynamic data and harness collective intelligence. In the first article in this series, which discussed content in the Web 2.0 world, I noted that with more than 9.5 million citations in Google, Web 2.0 is clearly generating tremendous interest online.
As anyone who has ever searched for information online knows, Google succeeded because it did the best job of finding the right page fastest. Google’s breakthrough was PageRank, a method of using the link structure of the web rather than just the characteristics of documents to provide better search results. This approach not only exemplifies the need for deep respect for data espoused by O’Reilly, it also demonstrates how to capitalize “on the uniquely democratic characteristic of the web by using its vast link structure as an organizational tool,” according to James Surowiecki in the Wisdom of Crowds.
Surowiecki’s book has become one of the key reference sources for developing management approaches to Web 2.0, because he provides a strong case for why we’re smarter as a group than we are as individuals. As a result, organizations cannot succeed if they restrict themselves to a top-down, hierarchical management philosophy.
The Web 2.0 technology that best exemplifies how to harness the wisdom of crowds is the wiki, which wikipedia defines as:
“A type of website that allows users to easily add, remove, or otherwise edit all content, very quickly and easily, sometimes without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing…. The term Wiki can also refer to the collaborative software itself that facilitates the operation of such a website.”

Governing crowds

Unfortunately, crowds aren’t always wise and helpful. Ironically, one of the best examples of this tendency was featured on wikipedia a few months ago. The definition of “wiki” was locked and featured a statement that read: “As a result of recent vandalism, or to stop banned editors from editing, the editing of this page by new or unregistered users is currently disabled.”
That seems like a heavy-handed, distinctly non-Web 2.0 attempt to stifle debate, but underlines a key point: information online must be accurate and credible. Many organizations deploy a cumbersome approval process that ensures accuracy, but does so at the expense of immediacy and the gathering of comprehensive viewpoints.
But organizations that have understood how to incorporate wikis into their web content plan, are able to do so because they have two success factors in place: an existing community that is motivated and committed to ensuring information is accurate; and they have implemented an effective governance model that ensures there is:
  • Responsibility and accountability
  • Support and championship by senior management
  • Enterprise-wide, cross-functional support and usage
  • Adequate funds and staff
  • A well functioning and stable technical environment
  • Motivated users

Just use it

Another management mindset required to embrace Web 2.0 is the understanding that it enables innovation from all areas of the organization. Unfortunately, according to CIO Magazine, research indicates that many IT executives view innovation as just the privilege of IT organizations. “According to the June 2005 Innovation survey, CIOs believe that IT has a critical role to play in innovation, particularly process innovation,” writes Allan Alter in the article. “Yet most appear to be taking a proprietary, even parochial view of emerging technologies. Few encourage business users to experiment, even with free applications they can download from the web. That may explain why most respondents say Web 2.0 technologies have not been frequently deployed, despite their explosive growth and low cost. Even more remarkable is how many IT executives say their company has no interest in these applications.”
That mindset returns us to the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In effect, IT is focused on the team collaboration tools that directly benefit them and are blind to the benefits of social networking and wikis. In doing so, they are denying their organization the ability to gain a broad enough perspective to understand how they can participate in the explosive growth of technologies like wikis.

Web 2.0 Management Checklist

The steps below are not a comprehensive list of everything required to tackle the management challenge created by Web 2.0, but they will provide a means for gaining traction toward full usage of these opportunities within your organization.

Build the foundation:

Existing internet and intranet sites create positive impressions
Content management plan delivers current, relevant information

Enhance your strategy:

Internal competence: more collaboration
Customers: how do they want to interact with data?
Competition: what are they doing to data?
Environment: Understand and use the technology

Fine tune management models:

Governance model crosses silos
Challenge team to embrace new models
Identify and empower communities
Understand generational change in staff

Engage Web 2.0 initiatives:

Establish thought leadership with blogs
Facilitate internal collaboration
Give a community a wiki
Relentlessly enhance your data