Web 2.0 is content that matters

By Toby Ward — Yes, the blogosphere and ‘Web 2.0’ are filled with fluff, idle chatter, and, quite frankly, a lot of crap. However, if you learn to filter the junk, as you do with your mail, e-mail or television, the rewards can be extremely meaningful and valuable to business.

I live on Wikipedia (and am often driven there by Google). I do a lot of research and reading and find the quality on Wikipedia to be superlative. In fact, while it has its critics, I’ve yet to encounter a credibility gap. And yet, the reliability of more traditional, scholarly sources are not always as reliable.

For example, I recently read a biography on Stalin from a very credible source and historian. Now I am a bit of a history buff, and I questioned the nature and circumstances of his death as detailed in this one biography. In fact, there are multiple versions and contradictions on how and where Stalin died, and who was present at the time. I am presently reading the annotated memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev that greatly contradicts various reports regarding the circumstances surrounding Stalin’s death. Khrushchev’s story was in fact corroborated by several others, including Stalin’s daughter, and is the one I’m fairly certain is correct. To my pleasant surprise, despite the many stories and conspiracy theories, the Wikipedia version of Stalin’s death is the correct one (from my informed standpoint).

Web 2.0 is about the conversation and those technologies that promote the conversation. In fact, notwithstanding the above example, Web 2.0 has less to do with factual data, and is more centered on subjective opinion: subject matter experts that offer their expertise, hobbyists and fans that share their passions, consumers that share their experiences, etc.

TripAdvisor.com is largely a user-generated opinion and review site (while its key to success is its travel reservations engines, the user reviews provide the fuel and the traffic). In July, TripAdvisor drew 25.5 million visitors to its network websites (according to comScore Media Metrix). It is now firmly the number one travel website with almost 25% more traffic than its closest competitor, Yahoo! Travel (which, having come to understand TripAdvisor’s success, has since incorporated user reviews).

“TripAdvisor is to travel reviews what Kleenex is to facial tissues," said Henry Harteveldt, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, in the International Herald Tribune. "They define the category. This is a company that was ahead of its time, but now they're in the sweet spot. And as social computing becomes big, they're poised to capitalize on that."

Thankfully for business, Web 2.0’s success has also bled onto the corporate intranet. Like Web 2.0, Intranet 2.0 represents the evolving collection of social media tools that are revolutionizing the intranet, and the way organizations and employees connect and collaborate. Specifically, Intranet 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and social networking sites promote collaboration, people connection, and ongoing dialogues that augment, but not replace the traditional top-down communications model.

Speaking of travel, Sabre, the company that runs most of the world’s airline flight reservation systems among many other systems, launched its own intranet social networking site for employees called SabreTown.

SabreTown has all the features of most social networking sites including:

  • Employee profiles with lots of details
  • Shared photos
  • Blogs
  • User commenting
  • Network connections and feeds
  • Enterprise question and answer functionality

On Sabre Town, users can post a question to the entire organization, and the site’s inference or relevance engine will automatically send the question to the 15 most relevant employees (based on what they’ve entered in their profile, blog postings and other Q&As that have been previously posted).

The results have been spectacular, with 60% of questions answered within one hour (one hour!) and each question receiving an average of nine responses.The system has already led to more than $150,000 in immediate, direct savings for the company, with much greater benefits not yet measured.

Before they implemented their own employee social networking site, BT (British Telecom) discovered that 4,000 employees had voluntarily joined a BT Facebook community in their own time. Employees were connecting online, in their own time, talking about BT, and BT wasn’t part of the conversation.

While BT’s management was reluctant to introduce these tools to employees, they really had little choice: employees were already using them and BT was in danger of being left out and left behind. In addition to social networking, BT employees blog, podcast, collaborate in discussion forums and use wikis. In fact, the wikis are so popular and successful that there are more than 500,000 employee wikis – and the vast majority of them are dedicated to business topics that help BT compete in the global workplace.

Listen to the Utterz version (micro-podcast) (you may have to wait a minute for it to load).

Toby Ward is the CEO and founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on creating a social media strategy, check out Prescient's Web 2.0 Blueprint and download our updated Social Media Checklist.

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