It’s an exciting idea, the way that Web 2.0 will transform the world of work, making collaboration the norm by providing wikis, bosses opening up dialogues by posting blogs that are open for comments, replacing meetings with discussion boards.
But before we get to that nirvana, we will have to live with the worrying answers to the question ‘how will the corporation subvert Web 2.0’
In the long term the Luddites always lose. In the long term the organisations which embrace Web 2.o will over-take those which resist it, just as Amazon has flooded out the bookshops and iTunes and Spotify have all but destroyed the the record companies.
What worries me, is the nature of that embrace.
Web 2.0, briefly, comprises the tools and attitudes that enable me to blog and enable you to rate my post and comment on it. It’s FaceBook and Twitter and citizen journalism and mash-ups and crowd-sourcing and ‘Here comes everybody’. It’s MySpace instead of A&R It’s Wikipedia instead of the Brittanica. It’s Twitter instead of… well… instead of no Twitter. Web 2.0, so we all thought, is a force for democracy and good. It cuts out the parasitical middle-person, it empowers individuals and enables them to form groups and enables those groups to face down corporations and governments. It puts artists directly in touch with their audience. It enables me to publish this and you to read it with no more cost than our time. It turns base metal into gold and chocolate into a slimming aid.
There are, it seems, two current views of what happens when Web 2.0 meets the Enterprise. In the first view, Web 2.0 brings about innovative, hierarchically flat organisations where knowledge is freely shared, where anyone who comes up with a bright idea can get it aired and taken up, where discussion boards pwn meetings and where gatekeepers and barriers to innovation are no more. Google is reported to be just such a place. The other view is that Web 2.0 and the enterprise are oil and water: executives and managers will resist Web 2.0 either because they don’t get it, because they think it is a distraction, or because they are just plain running scared.
But I am not convinced by either. Web 2.0, combined with an internal search engine, are powerful surveillance tools. Any well-governed Wiki will tell you exactly who made which changes when, and far more neatly than you can track the changes in Word. You can capture Instant Messenger logs and run searches on them in a way which you cannot tape and search conversations by the water cooler. Nobody minutes meetings any more, but a discussion forum can be there for as long and the server farm lasts and longer.
Web 2.0 facilitates networks and interactions, but it also makes them more visible, and therefore easier to track. We already know that the web is destroying privacy. These days it takes diligence, vigilance and consistency to hide in cyberspace. It is hard not have your name published by other people when school mates tag you on photos in FaceBook.
So it is surprising that hierarchical organisations don’t espouse Web 2.0 tools more actively, and this supports the theory that this is because execs and managers just don’t get it.
As something of a Web 2.0 evangelist, that places me on the horns of a dilemma. A trilemma, actually. Do I:
- promote Web 2.o tools because they empower people and democratise knowledge
- stop promoting Web 2.0 tools because they expose people by turning situations which they are used to considering private into permanent searchable records or
- use the argument that they can improve audit and accountability in order to get them into an organisation because they are just so flippin’ COOOL?
For some of the thinking that led me to this impasse see:
Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom – Matthew Fraser & Soumitra Dutta
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