Web 2.0 is no panacea

Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, whenever a company wanted to illustrate how new, innovative and with-the-times it was, it stuck an “i” or an “e” in front of its name, product or service. Before the dot-com bust, there were no shortages of firms that were e-enabled and i-empowered that began many a press release and e-mail with the calling cry, “The Internet changes everything.”

But as the bust demonstrated, there often wasn’t much substance behind the fancy new names and over-abundance of hyphens.

Now organizations wanting to demonstrate their ingenuity showcase their originality by putting a 2.0 behind their name, service or product.

Dell, for example, has dubbed its strategy for revitalization “Dell 2.0.”

Among other initiatives, the company famous for its lean supply chain is going to take a hard look at how it can make that supply chain even more efficient. It’s also planning to embark on other bold and radical ideas, such as re-examining the design of its PCs.

Web 2.0 is the latest buzz word that everyone seems to be enamoured with.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the power of wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and instant messaging. And no doubt, the ways in which people communicate and gather information are changing, but it’s best not to be overly optimistic or think of the changes as being revolutionary.

Just because there’s a 2.0 behind the name of a concept doesn’t mean that it’s a sound idea. Much of the promise people place in Web 2.0, like much of the hope that was initially placed in dot-coms, may in the end turn out to be overly optimistic.

Take wikis for instance. There are no shortages of examples in which the power given to people by Wikipedia has been abused. The company that once let anyone post to a collective encyclopedia of knowledge banned IP addresses from the U.S. Congress after some entries about American politicians were either deleted or, in Wikipedia’s words, “vandalized.”

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s entry was falsely changed to add that he had been voted the “most annoying senator.”

Other senators changed their own entries to improve the way they were represented.

Wikipedia also banned Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report after he encouraged viewers to follow his lead by making false entries.

While the ability to tap into collective knowledge through a site such as Wikipedia can be powerful, it also has to be approached with caution.

The same goes for the much-touted blogsphere.

It has been credited for changing the political landscape and the face of journalism, and enterprises are wondering how they can tap into its power.

But many of the problems that arise with wikis are also true of the blogsphere: How do you know whether or not a blog is credible? Is the blog raving about the products of Widgets Inc. written by an actual consumer or is it a sly marketing campaign?

While technology will continue to change the way we work and live, most changes will come with a mixture of positive and negative, so it’s important to proceed with caution.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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