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Web, wikis: models for business software

Web 2.0 is about people and Enterprise 2.0 will be less about less top-down structure and more about structure developed freely through lower-level interactions, said Harvard Business School Associate Professor Andrew McAfee and Socialtext CEO Ross Mayfield. "The technology is not different," Mayfield said. "There are enough people, with a critical mass, using the Net long enough that we're beginning to see advanced social behaviour." Mayfield said businesses should be asking themselves whether their Intranets are made of people. He added that the web works well and businesses should be trying to replicate it behind their firewalls. Mayfield and McAfee spoke Thursday at Interop New York. Mayfield also announced the launch of Socialtext 2.0, enterprise social software for collaboration. They explained that executives often fear turning over control to employees but giving employees control can actually increase their adoption of new software, cut down on corporate spam, shorten meeting times and increase the speed at which information is disseminated through a company. McAfee pointed to Wikipedia and ant colonies as examples showing that the opposite of imposed structure is not chaos. It is emergent structure, he said. "When you look at an ant colony, it seems like there is a big brain somewhere," he said. Though there appears to be some centralised control, low-level interactions are actually creating patterns and order, he said. "Lots of people don't like having structure imposed on them," McAfee said, adding that it can be more productive to give people the tools to allow structure to emerge. Mayfield made a similar comment, aimed more squarely at highly structured enterprise software, designed by buyers, not users. "Your typical user in the enterprise is going to do anything they can to avoid using the new tool," he said. McAfee defines Enterprise 2.0 as the use of emergent social software platforms within companies or between companies and their customers or companies and their partners. Dresdner Kleinwort reported a 75 percent reduction in e-mail volume, a 50 percent reduction in time spent in business meetings and the ability to report information immediately, Mayfield said. Socialtext allows employees to develop their own solutions through wikis and blogs. The latest version presents a redesigned user interface for increased simplicity. It also adds Wiki Web Services, using SOAP and REST APIs for integration and open source innovations. It allows developers to choose a language and create mashups. Mayfield presented a new dashboard with a watch list, allowing users to see updates from groups they participate. The site also contains new navigation tools. Editing is simpler. Socialtext boasts more than 2,000 customers. Mayfield said that the application was simplified to increase the number of people contributing. He also said it works the way Wikipedia will work in about a year. Mayfield said collaborative software is "disruptive" in that it runs on a low-cost, open source basis, allows free publishing, free formation of groups, lower coordination and transaction costs and increased adoption and engagement. No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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