Enterprises seek social-networking effect

Make your Web 2.0 rollout relevant, and ultimately, you'll earn user's trust and faith in the project, Web 2.0 panelists say

Social bookmarking and IRC (Internet relay chat) top the list of must-have tools for organizations looking to leverage Web 2.0 technologies within the enterprise, according to a Web 2.0 Expo panel moderated by Rob Rueckert of Intel Capital.

The panel -- which included Cisco's Michael Lenz, Socialtext's Ross Mayfield, Procter & Gamble's Joe Schueller, and BEA's David Meyer -- sought to educate Web 2.0 entrepreneurs as to the needs and hurdles particular to enterprises interested in deploying their wares.

"The sleeper hit in the enterprise, what I've been waiting for and dying to get going on, is social bookmarking," said Schueller, who, as innovation manager for the global business services unit at Procter & Gamble, investigates R&D and consumer technologies to optimize Procter & Gamble's enterprise.

"We have a very large knowledge base on our intranet that is all in silos, not connected in one way or another," Schueller explained, "so we struggle with a certain Mountain View company to determine the authority of our search."

According to Schueller, the main impediment the enterprise faces when it comes to capitalizing on knowledge assets is that the page-rank model is dead. "What we're hoping is that even with a small but passionate [social-bookmarking] community out of our 135,000 employees, we could start to get some real benefits in terms of enterprise search," he said.

Socialtext co-founder Mayfield applauded the notion of enterprises putting the tools in corporate users' hands and seeing what happens, adding that IRC will have a significant impact in realizing the potential synergistic effects of collaboration in the enterprise in the years to come.

The overarching message of the panel was that enterprises are increasingly looking to Web 2.0 technologies to help them achieve greater levels of transparency in information systems, thereby facilitating a collaborative network effect among knowledge workers who -- dispersed both departmentally and geographically -- might not otherwise be aware of one another's expertise. And it's the user-centric social-networking aspects of Web 2.0 taxonomies -- aka "folksonomies" -- that are drawing the most attention.

"You can find the product manager, the engineer, the salesperson, anybody possessing intimate knowledge of a particular subject simply by how they implicitly use documents in the system," BEA's Meyer said, adding that relevancy has less to do with links than it does the import people place on content, as well as who it is that earmarks a particular document as worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, the chief hurdle large organizations face in capitalizing on social networking in the enterprise is user adoption.

"How do you translate the upside of social networking into an overly hierarchical corporate structure?" Procter & Gamble's Schueller asked, pointing out that a manager, who is used to being in control, is just another voice in the democratized atmosphere that Web 2.0 brings to the enterprise.

Bottom line: Buy-in is achieved by proving the concept with results.

"Once I know the stuff I've got out there can actually be found by others who need it, I'm more motivated to put it out there," Schueller said, summing up the exponential potential of Web 2.0-fueled collaborative environments.

"The value proposition of Web 2.0 is relevancy and fidelity," Cisco's Lenz added.

In other words, make your Web 2.0 rollout relevant, and ultimately, you'll earn user's trust and faith in the project.

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