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Why Companies Need Web 2.0 Mon 07 Jul 08

My youngest daughter is doing a study abroad and an internship in France this summer. Taking advantage of the situation, we decided to travel with her to her destination and have a long overdue family vacation, a week in Paris.

Since she was going to be there for a while, she naturally brought her PC along. After we checked into the hotel, I asked if she had brought her Ethernet cable with her. That's when I got "the look."

All of you fathers know the look I'm talking about. It's the one that tells you've said something incredibly stupid. Despite her look, she politely said, "Why do I need a cable? Don't they have wireless?'" Having spent the last two years in an academic environment, she simply could not comprehend wireless not being available.

Later that day, when we returned from our sightseeing, we asked the hotel desk clerk about wireless. He informed me that, yes, they had wireless, and gave us the login information. I then asked if there was a charge--and that's when I learned that, apparently, French hotel clerks and young American women learn non-verbal communication at the same place. The clerk also gave me "the look," and politely informed me, "It is free." Again, in their worlds, Internet access is always wireless and free.

The point in all this is that there is a new generation of potential employees and customers that are accustomed to a variety of technologies being available, and they expect to see and use them in the corporate world. Whether and how we deploy these technologies likely will have an impact on our ability to attract new talent to our companies and to find and retain customers. Here's a sampling of these technologies:

  • RSS (Really Simple Syndication) automatically feeds you information you want.
  • Social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace.
  • A quick messaging technology, such as Twitter, that lets people know what you are doing.
  • Social networking technologies such as FriendFeed, which lets users share Web pages, photos, videos and music with friends and family.
  • Instant messaging. E-mail is so "last decade."
  • Wikis, blogs and mash-ups to share, collect and edit information.

Some people may look at these technologies as interesting for personal use, but assume they offer nothing for the corporate world. Before we dismiss these out of hand, we should think about the possibilities:

  • RSS can be used to push order-status information directly to a customer's company intranet.
  • Have employees use a MySpace or Facebook-type site to introduce themselves to the company. These can also be a resource to help employees find a potential car-pool mate, someone with a background in product design or specific experience on a product you are thinking about launching.
  • Twitter and FriendFeed as communication and collaboration tools. Imagine someone putting out a Twitter message (a "tweet") that says, "I'm updating the marketing plan, does anyone have any info on X?" rather than sending out an e-mail that gets lost in everyone's inbox. The tweet may have a wider reach and generate a better response. And when your research project is done, share it via FriendFeed.
  • Instant Messaging for quick conversations that don't get buried in the inbox or use up valuable storage space on the e-mail server (though some IM tools allow you to save the conversation in your e-mail system if you want or need to keep it.)
  • Wikis and blogs can be used for training and collaboration on large projects.
  • Mashups can bring together production and operations data from a variety of sources, allowing a production manager to get a good overview of her operations.
  • YouTube-style videos can be used for training or distributing important messages, such as the CEO announcing a new product launch or Joe, the IT help desk guy, receiving an award.

Think this can't be done? Think again. Take a look at online retailer Zappos; this article and an accompanying YouTube video talk about its use of Twitter.

All these technologies fall into the loosely defined category of "Enterprise 2.0." Certainly, as with any new technology application, there are potential problems that must be addressed. Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee produced this useful FAQ about Enterprise 2.0.

So rather than dismissing these technologies right out of the gate, let's figure out how to best use them the right way.

Like it or not, our employees and customers--not to mention our competitors--are using these technologies now and will soon be expecting you to provide them, too. Don't do it and you may find yourself at a competitive disadvantage. What are you doing about using these technologies inside your company?

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

"Eiffel Tower, Gargoyle and Alli" photo by Mike Schaffner

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