Web 2.0, hype or just hype? An IT Skeptic Special Report
The hype wave of Web 2.0 approaches a crescendo. Apparently it is going to transform IT and reengineer the business. The IT Skeptic thinks not. Actually I think "not again".
I have been holding off on the Web 2.0 topic until I could do something learned, erudite, pontificating. But the whole thing is as slippery as a soapy baby so I waited as I tried to pin it all down [WARNING this is a mixed metaphor: do not try to pin babies]. As usual an article has set me off and I wait no longer. The catalyst is Web 2.0, Sea Changes and the Enterprise.
The author, Steve Andriole, freely admits
I was in the very heart of the dot.com bubble... We took lots of companies public in those days. Only a few survived. Many ... crashed and burned and lots of good people suffered. Is anything that different now? I find myself muttering phrases like “sea change,” “game over,” and “killer apps” way too often. I really thought I was cured.
I think he isn't.
1) Wikis could revolutionize the way that companies document policies, processes and procedures.
No they won't. Wikis are a useful tool for a large group of people to collaborate on writing stuff down, but good useful documentation is authorative, structured, consistent, complete and meticulously accurate, none of which are attributes of wikis in general.
Impact on the business on a Richter scale of ten: 1
2) Blogs can be used to vet ideas, strategies, projects and programs. They can – along with wikis – be used for knowledge management... They can also be used as living suggestion boxes and chat rooms ...
Well, yes... in as much as a blog is a webpage that folk can write on, much like a piece of paper only more complex and expensive (actually I think he's including forums when he refers to "living suggestion boxes and chat rooms"). Knowledge management? No. KM is one of those much-abused labels that people slap on anything handy. Chucking facts in a bucket is not KM.
Impact on the business: 0.1
3) Podcasts can be used for pre-meetings, in-meetings and post-meetings documentation. Repositories of podcasts can contribute to institutional memory and together comprise a rich audit trail of corporate initiatives and decision-making.
Oh my, he's really winding up now. We have been able to record audio for a century. The reason it hasn't displaced paper is that it is inconvenient, impossible to index or search or copy, and bulky. A "rich audit trail" I think not, unless "rich" means "impenetrable". Voice mail was an advance in communications?
Impact on the business: 0
4) RSS filters can be used to fine tune information flows of all kinds to employees, customers, suppliers and partners
Phew, back to earth. Agree on this one: RSS feeds and filters would be a much more useful mechanism than the barrage of emails I used to get (and not read) within the corporation. But filtered crap is still crap. This addresses the symptom not the problem of corporate communications - nothing fundamental here.
Impact on the business: 1
5) Mash-up technology makes it easier to develop applications that solve specific problems – if only temporarily. Put some end-users in a room full of APIs and watch what happens.
Lost me on this one. "end-users in a room full of APIs" will result in precisely nothing, as anyone who has struggled with JAD and similar methodologies will tell you. Mash-ups are as dodgy as the name implies. Just like prototypes, ad-hoc queries, user programming and spreadsheets: they should be allowed nowhere near a real production IT environment; and their use by the business will result in as many errors as successes.
Impact on the business: 0
6) Crowdsourcing can be used to extend the enterprise via the Web and leverage the expertise of lots of professionals on to corporate problems
Back to earth again with a bump. The potential of crowdsourcing is real ["outsourcing to the wisdom of the crowd", or posting your problems on the internet and asking for solutions]. But not infinite: crowdsourcing fatigue will set in, the crowd is not always right [a future blog], it will fall victim to spam and nutters, and it can only be used where commercial confidentiality is not important (don't want to telegraph a new development to competitors before it has even been designed). R&D has not been transformed - it just has one more useful tool.
Impact on the business: 1
7) Service-oriented architecture ...is actually a decentralizing force that will enable companies to solve computational and display problems much faster than they ever did in the past. What will it be like when we can point to glue and functionality and have them assemble themselves into solutions?
I can hear the wild arm-waving. I grew up a bit earlier than Steve, and I remember all the magic solutions that were going to transform IT or business: relational database (once all the data was in one place...), corporate information model (once we had one picture of the business...), fourth generation languages, CASE (once we generated the code in one place...), structured programming, modular programming, object-oriented programming (once all the methods were defined in one place…), information engineering, repository (once all the meta-data was defined in one place…), RAD, JAD, directory (once all the data was indexed so it looked like it was in one place….), data warehousing (once we had a copy of all the data in one place…), EAI (once we glued it all together automagically so it looked like it was in one place…), MIS and then EIS (once the executives had all the key data in one place….), CRM (once all the customer interactions were kept in one place…), extreme programming, content management (once all the documents were in one place…), HTML, ERP (once we had the whole damn business in one place…), Web Services (once all the APIs are dynamically linked, and the UDDI lets us look up everything in one place…), and of course e-commerce [embarrassed silence while we all blush]. Every one was accompanied by similar arm-waving pundits shouting "follow the gourd" [Life of Brian, Monty Python]. SOA will allow us to do things better and smarter by adding yet another layer of complexity to be integrated and managed and kept stable: three steps forward and two back.
Impact on the business: 2 if it works.
Any one of a dozen similar articles could have been the basis for this one. Sorry to pick on Steve. He's not alone of course. There are armies of them, just as there were behind all the previous waves of irrational exuberance. How about this one from a blog called EarlyStageVC
Mash-ups represent a potentially powerful way to create new ad hoc Web applications out of existing enterprise data and web services... Ultimately, they will emerge as complete business processes that mash (integrate) enterprise applications with applications in the cloud. And SOA and Web 2.0 will fully converge.
...and black and white will live in peace and harmony. Shockingly he is talking about Web 2.0 as passe ("on the verge of going from Wired to Tired"), and Web 3.0 as the next big thing. But there was one great point in that same article
Collaboration in a business context has a goal other than the act of collaborating itself. We used to call these goals business processes. Collaboration is one important component of a business process, but it is not the whole process.
...or even a large part of it. The real world runs on a lot more than a few wikis and tag clouds. Returning to a common mantra of mine: technology does not fix process. Most business problems are people and process problems. We have technology up the wazzoo: more is not going to help. In as much as Web 2.0 concepts and technology expedite people and process, they are a good thing and they will play their small part in making a difference. But they aren't going to change the world, and Web 2.0 and/or SOA are not going to transform business.