This article describes research designed to measure the impact of the business value of wikis, blogs, podcasts, folksonomies, mashups, social networks, virtual worlds, crowdsourcing, and RSS filtersall Web 2.0 technologies. Properly deployed, they may well permit companies to cost-effectively increase their productivity and, ultimately, their competitive advantage; the research reported here includes results of interview, observation, and survey data-collection from select companies and industries primarily in the U.S. across six performance areas: knowledge management, rapid application development, customer relationship management, collaboration/communication, innovation, and training. The results include caution, skepticism, and a significant contribution to collaboration and communication. Wikis, blogs, and RSS filters have had the greatest impact, while virtual worlds have had virtually none. Security remains a concern, but we found that communication and collaboration are generally well served by Web 2.0 technologies.
Only limited published research is available today exploring the contribution of Web 2.0 technologies to corporate productivity and management. Gartner Group (http://www.gartner.com), Forrester Research (http://www.forrester.com), IDC (http://www.idc.com), and the Cutter Consortium (http://www.cutter.com) report that Web 2.0 technologies are rapidly making their way into corporate technology infrastructures and architectures. But the way they are used and the impact they are having have not been reported in a systematic way.
My research posed the following questions to managers and executives:
Research objectives included:
Questions addressed included:
Research methods included:
(Figure 1 outlines specific impact metrics.)
Business 2.0, Fast Company, Businessweek, and other business publications cover Web 2.0 and even Web 3.0, the so-called "new Net" and the next digital gold rush. Is it indeed another bubble, with Web 2.0 (then Web 3.0) vendors crashing and burning like their dot-com predecessors a decade ago? The online trade journal Web 2.0 Journal (http://www.web2journal.com) explores all sorts of Web 2.0 technologies, while just about every major technology vendor has released multiple white papers on the promise of Web 2.0 technologies and applications. There are also many Web 2.0 blogs, including Dion Hinchcliffe's Web 2.0 (http://www.web2.socialcomputingmagazine.com), that attract a growing number of participants. If this were 1999, we'd call Web 2.0 a "killer app" or "disruptive technology." However, we're still not sure today about the business impact of Web 2.0 technologies, which have evolved on the consumer-to-consumer side of the Web. Social networking sites like MySpace (http://www.myspace.com), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com), and Friendster (http://www.friendster.com) were developed to connect individuals anxious to share experiences, photographs, videos, and other personal aspects of their daily lives. These sites grew rapidly with huge amounts of user-created content; YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) is probably the best example of such content.
Our research reflects corporate deployment trends and business impact. Will Web 2.0 technology be widely adopted because it dramatically and cost-effectively improves corporate performance? Will it ultimately disappoint the business and technology professionals it's expected to please?
The questions we posed to participating companies and that defined our observation included:
These questions guided our interviews and observation exercises. Our conversations were designed to understand what companies were doing with Web 2.0 technologies, their impact, and their alignment with expectations, fears, and trends. They assumed that companies are in the relatively early stages of their Web 2.0 application deployment, are still learning what the technologies can and cannot do, and are motivated to understand their potential.
We undertook a number of interviews and conversations, combined with direct observation, to determine the deployment of Web 2.0 technologies and, more important, the impact they have on corporate productivity. Our conversations occurred in Q1 and Q2 2008 with companies in the pharmaceutical, chemical, real estate/mortgage, information technology, and financial services industries agreeing to in-depth interviews and access to the teams implementing select Web 2.0 technologies. The interviews were conducted with senior technology managers in each company. Approximately 15 senior managers participated in the interviews.
There are serious concerns about intellectual property, proprietary information, privacy, security, and control.
The five companies represented the following vertical industries:
Company A. Big pharmaceutical company;
Company B. Global chemicals company;
Company C. National real estate and mortgage company;
Company D. Global IT company; and
Company E. Large financial services company.
The questions we asked and the responses included:
Big pharmaceutical company: "Reading; conferences, vendors, and IT staff";
Global chemicals company: "Vendors, IT staff, and business partners";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Vendors and IT staff";
Global IT company: "Competitors, industry publications"; and
Large financial services company: "Trade publications, industry organizations."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Primarily blogs, wikis, and podcasts";
Global chemicals company: "Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS";
Global IT company: "Blogs, wikis, RSS, and virtual reality"; and
Large financial services company: "Blogs, wikis, mashups, and tagging."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Very fast, cheap but productive applications";
Global chemicals company: "Easy to deploy with lots of payback";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Fast, cheap to deploy, with major productivity";
Global IT company: "Integrates well with existing technology"; and
Large financial services company: "Transparent but effective."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Lots of distraction due to the technology";
Global chemicals company: "Expensive, time-consuming deployment that fails";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Loss of control of the technology";
Global IT company: "Exposure of company secrets"; and
Large financial services company: "Everyone playing around with this stuff when they should be working."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Wikis and blogs";
Global chemicals company: "Wikis and blogs";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Wikis, RSS, and blogs";
Global IT company: "Wikis, blogs, and RSS filters"; and
Large financial services company: "Wikis, blogs, and mashups."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Virtual worlds, stupid";
Global chemicals company: "Virtual worlds, no clue how they might help us";
National real-estate and mortgage company: "Virtual worlds and blogs, way too much data to control";
Global IT company: "Blogs and crowdsourcing, way too much proprietary data in them"; and
Large financial services company: "Social networks, way too distracting during work."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Too early to tell, way too early";
Global chemicals company: "Suspicious of trade-offs between 'fun' and 'productivity'";
National real-estate and mortgage company: "Who the hell knows?";
Global IT company: "People seem to like them, but I don't know the real impact"; and
Large financial services company: "We are hopeful."
Big pharmaceutical company. "Collaboration and communication is where the action is; this is the real impact we're seeing at this point; plus, there's a lot of user acceptance of wikis, blogs, and social networks; we're getting more formal with KM where wikis and blogs are being used to codify information and vet decisions; only doing a little with RAD and mashups, but that will come in time; same with CRM, where we plan to use the tools to better communicate with customers and suppliers; wikis are emerging as training tools; not too much yet with innovation; a little worried about crowdsourcing outside the firewall";
Global chemicals company. "Wikis and blogs have changed the way we communicate: they're easy and fast, and everyone can participate; KM is fast following improved communications and collaboration; the IT team is crazy about mashups; they are able to build applications very quickly for the business, so I'd say RAD has improved; CRM with external customers and suppliers is behind the other applications; we're a little leery of working outside the firewall with these tools; training is a natural; we're using wikis, blogs, and podcasts for training, with good results; still nothing with virtual worlds or crowdsourcing, a little too 'out there' for us";
National real estate and mortgage company. "We're all over these tools for data and content management; RSS filters are used internally and externally, and we tag everything for better search and access; communication and collaboration are obvious beneficiaries of the tool use; CRM is our next application, where RSS and other content will be provided to our customers; virtual worlds are not there for us yet, but we like wikis, blogs, and podcasts for training; they are cheaper and faster than hiring a training company; innovation is happening inside the company with crowdsourcing and blogs";
Global IT company. "Communication and collaboration have improved since we introduced some Web 2.0 tools; consumerization has definitely taken hold here; people, especially the younger ones, are simply extending their personal experience with the tools to the workplace without missing a beat; KM is just sort of happening on its own, repositories are being built without a formal project to do so; CRM is still not on our radar, though we're doing a lot of things internally we could provide our customers and suppliers; mashup technology is the fastest RAD technology we've ever seen; we're training with wikis and blogs, and the time savings are large"; and
Large financial services company. "Impact has been spotty; I separate fun from productivity; sure, everyone likes these tools, but I'm not convinced that the benefit is there yet; wikis and blogs help communication, especially collaboration, but I wonder just how much; we have so much to do, and even though Web 2.0 tools are pretty easy to use, they still require time and effort; we already have KM tools and databases that permit us to organize and search; we have CRM tools we've invested a ton of money in; we have contractors, vendors, and partners that assist our innovation efforts; and what about the negative impact on security?; we like the CRM aspects of the technologies, but I need to see empirical cost-benefit data before I declare victory."
Big pharmaceutical company: "The ability to record knowledge and experiences in a single format and location";
Global chemicals company: "Internal buzz; everybody likes the new stuff";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Wikis are being used for training";
Global IT company: "Using crowd-sourcing internally to solve some tough problems"; and
Large financial services company: "Building some RSS filters to better organize information; also using folk-sonomies to organize data and content."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Seeing a lot of what I consider to be sensitive information in wikis, blogs, and podcasts";
Global chemicals company: "IT's inability to control this stuff";
National real estate and mortgage company: "No feedback on what it's good for";
Global IT company: "Lack of vendor support"; and
Large financial services company: "The caution of IT."
Big pharmaceutical company: "How easy it is to deploy new, useful technology";
Global chemicals company: "How we can displace more expensive technologies for much cheaper and easier-to-use technologies;
National real estate and mortgage company: "How easy it is to use the new stuff";
Global IT company: "How open it is"; and
Large financial services company: "How it extends existing capabilities."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Integration with existing technologies";
Global chemicals company: "Integration with business processes";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Support";
Global IT company: "Intellectual property and privacy, a lot"; and
Large financial services company: "Security, privacy, IP, and all of the proprietary data that fills wikis, blogs, crowdsourced solutions, podcasts, and everything else this technology makes transparent."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Security, security, and security";
Global chemicals company: "Support";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Governance. Who owns these tools?";
Global IT company: "Integration and interoperability with our applications"; and
Large financial services company: "Integration with our existing applications and architectures."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Not at all, as long as it works and doesn't cost too much, they will embrace it";
Global chemicals company: "The business always wants to try new things; it's IT that slows things down";
National real estate and mortgage company: "The business is skeptical about all the new tools IT brings to the table, so they'll be cautious";
Global IT company: "The business wants only low-cost solutions"; and
Large financial services company: "If it's free and powerful, they'll love it."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Yes, they always find something 'wrong' with the new stuff, always worried about support";
Global chemicals company: "No, they are pushing the stuff";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Cost always worries IT; it's been beaten into them over time; so the technology needs to be cheap to deploy and support";
Global IT company: "They will come around; they don't like how easy it is for employees to just set up blogs and wikis, often end-running them"; and
Large financial services company: "They see the business value, or at least the potential in these tools, so I think we are OK here."
Big pharmaceutical company: "Fully accepted and integrated";
Global chemicals company: "There, but you need to ask me about Web 3.0 technologies";
National real estate and mortgage company: "Mainstream by that time we will have figured out what to do with them";
Global IT company: "Well-received and productive"; and
Large financial services company: "Still a little skeptical."
Results. The interviews and direct observations revealed consistent trends among the interview subjects (see Figure 2). We learned that Web 2.0 technologies, in spite of the hype, are entering the enterprise slowly but deliberately. The exception is there are clearly applications not entirely controlled by the enterprise's technology organization. The majority of applications are entering organizations in areas where expectations can be managed, costs are low, and tool integration and interoperability (with existing applications and infrastructures) are manageable. We also learned there are serious concerns about intellectual property, proprietary information, privacy, security, and control.
Technology organizations are both advancing and delaying deployment of Web 2.0 technologies. Some absolutely require that Web 2.0 technologies, like all enterprise technologies, be governed by the same processes governing the acquisition, deployment, and support of all digital technologies. Others are loosening their grip somewhat, primarily because they believe it's virtually impossible to prevent business units and project teams from creating wikis and blogs.
There is also a hierarchy of Web 2.0 tools. All companies we interviewed deployed wikis and blogs, and many deployed RSS filters and podcasts. Fewer deployed social networks, mashups, and folksonomies, and even fewer invested in crowdsourcing and virtual worlds. Deployment momentum is at work, as it often is when new technologies appear. Momentum breeds momentum, and we can expect wikis, blogs, podcasts, and RSS filters to gain momentum as other Web 2.0 technologies lag. The models for exploiting these early-adopted technologies will thus grow faster, wider, and deeper than optimization models for, say, virtual worlds.
Finally, an important distinction separates internal applications from their external counterparts. We noticed that our companies were much more willing to pilot Web 2.0 technologies inside than outside their firewalls, not because they feared failure or wanted to avoid tipping their hands to competitors, but because of deepening concerns about security and access to corporate private data.
Our interviews provided one level of insight into the adoption and impact of Web 2.0 technologies, but what did the survey data provide?
The survey questions focused on background issues, impact expectations, and the impact the technologies have across the six areas. The Cutter Consortium, a research and consulting organization, administered the survey to its stable of CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, CEOs, and COOs representing more than 20 vertical industries, including small offices/home offices, small and mid-size businesses, and large global enterprises. The five companies we interviewed also participated in the survey. In addition to these five companies, 93 companies from around the world also responded to the survey.
Results. Table 1 outlines the survey results, along with the deployment landscape. Wikis and blogs lead the charge, followed by RSS filters.a Perhaps surprising is the deployment of internal social networks and folksonomies/content management applications. No one seems to like living in a virtual world. The use of external customer blogs is also interesting and suggestive of our desire to reach out to customers any way we can. We must also acknowledge that 22% in the survey did not deploy any Web 2.0 technologies at all.
These results are consistent with our interview data. The most obvious Web 2.0 technologies, including wikis and blogs, are being deployed more rapidly than virtual worlds, crowdsourcing, and mashups. There's caution around early adoption of any new technology. Due to the freewheeling nature of Web 2.0 technologies, even more caution is apparent.
The growth of external deployment is important. We're seeing deployment of external blogs and external social networks, though we're lagging with deployment of external crowdsourcing models. This confirms the distinction we noted between the internal and external deployment of Web 2.0 technologies during our interviews (see Figure 2).
Table 2 outlines some expectations data. What did senior managers think about the contributions Web 2.0 technologies could make to corporate productivity and management?
The survey data suggests expectations were generally positive, even though most respondents (55%) expect "medium" impact, and 23% expect it to be "high." This combined 78% response suggests the majority of respondents expect the impact of Web 2.0 technologies to be significant. There is a lot of optimism out there.
Table 3 suggests that most respondents expect Web 2.0 technologies to affect knowledge management, collaboration, and communications; many also expected them to positively affect customer relationship management, innovation, and training. Rapid application development was expected to lag relative to the other areas.
Table 4 outlines what happened vs. what respondents thought would happen. For example, knowledge management was expected to be more important than it turned out to be. Collaboration and communications were slightly exaggerated in the expectations survey data, though collaboration and communications were still highly affected by Web 2.0 technologies. Expectations lagged for innovation, training, customer relationship management, and rapid application development. What could explain the optimism that yielded to reality? Cynics might point to pundit hype and vendor exaggeration of technology capabilities, something many vendors do routinely. Others might point to naiveté about early vs. managed-technology adoption processes. Regardless of the reason, we found a gap between what was expected and what actually occurred.
Table 5 shifts to a lower level of analysis, assessing the impact of knowledge management. The four metricssharing, retrieving, organizing, and leveraging knowledgeindicate that Web 2.0 technologies contributed significantly to sharing, retrieving, and organizing knowledge but less to leveraging knowledge for problem solving. This makes Web 2.0 technologies (for knowledge management) more descriptive than prescriptive, more operational than strategic.
The impact breakdown is even more interesting. Table 6 suggests that wikis, blogs, and folksonomies/content management lead the way toward improved knowledge management. A surprising finding is the relative lack of impact of RSS filters, because the essence of RSS filtering is knowledge management. Not surprising is that virtual worlds have little impact on knowledge management.
In terms of application development, relatively little ground-up application development is going on these days. More and more companies have adapted their processes to those embedded in packaged software applications. Also, a great deal of application development occurs around the customization of functionality extending from packaged applications.
One would think mashup technology would have a dramatic impact on the customization and extension of packaged application-based functionality an assumption not supported by our survey data. Table 7 suggests a weak relationship across the board between Web 2.0 technologies and application development. This finding also suggests that the new Internet-centered applications architecture may lag as well. While more and more transaction processing occurs outside the corporate firewall, many companies are more comfortable with older application-development enhancement methods and models that do not necessarily involve Web-published application program interfaces, components, and widgets.
Wikis seem to lead the pack of Web 2.0 technologies and their contribution to rapid application development (see Table 8). Wikis apparently represent a suite of new applications companies are deploying. Perhaps surprising is the relatively few survey respondents who view mashups as applications unto themselves or as an applications-development methodology. Web-centric application architectures will use mashup technology extensively to create a new class of applications, though they appear to be more on the drawing board than in the field.
Table 9 indicates that Web 2.0 technologies have had little impact on customer relationship management, a little surprising since several Web 2.0 technologies (such as external customer blogs, wikis, external social networks, and RSS filters) have great potential in this area. This further suggests that we may not be thinking creatively enough about how Web 2.0 technologies can contribute not only to customer relationship management but to other impact areas as well.
Table 10 suggests that wikis and external customer blogs contribute the most to customer relationship management, though, again, the numbers are not compelling. Little confidence was expressed in the use of external social networks. Overall, the data suggests that customer relationship management is not viewed as a prime impact area for Web 2.0 technologies, though this attitude might change over time.
Table 11 shifts the focus to collaboration and communication, where, as expected, the impact is significant. Wikis are the runaway hit, followed by blogs and external social networks. However, we found a lower level of deployment sophistication than the ideal. For example, the "auditing" of communications and collaboration streams (classic business intelligence) lags well behind other impact areas. The power of many Web 2.0 technologies often involves the ability to perform primary and secondary analyses of transactions, communications patterns, and customer service. Our survey data appears to indicate that we're seeing a toe-in-the-water effect, where companies experiment with initial deployments but stop short of full commitment through total exploitation of the technologies.
Table 12 confirms all this, with wikis, internal blogs, and internal social networks leading the way in collaboration and communications. While this trend is to be expected, many other opportunities have yet to be exploited. Table 12 also suggests weakness in externally focused Web 2.0 technology deploymentsurprising in light of the technology's capabilities. We can infer from this data that external applications lag internal ones and that over time significant collaboration and communication applications can be expected. Why such optimism? Because Web 2.0 technology capabilities are essentially built on ubiquitous collaboration and communication.
Table 13 turns to innovation, though there's not much enthusiasm here, despite enough progress to excite those who think Web 2.0 technology can eventually contribute to innovation. Crowdsourcing is an especially powerful Web 2.0 innovation technology, along with RSS filters, wikis, and blogs.
Table 14 outlines how Web 2.0 technologies contribute to innovation. Very surprising is the relative unimportance survey respondents ascribe to external crowdsourcing. (Does anyone believe virtual worlds are useful for anything?)
Training is the final area we assessed. Table 15 suggests that survey respondents have not yet defined how Web 2.0 technologies can contribute to training. While wikis are natural-born trainers, Web 2.0 technologies can contribute much more. What were the respondents missing? Table 16 provides the details. While wikis "win," other technologies are discounted, at least for now. Meanwhile, this is where virtual worlds might actually contribute to education and learning, though there's not much evidence to suggest that anyone agrees.
What did we learn from the interviews, observations, and survey? Security remains a major issue in the adoption of Web 2.0 technology. Beyond it, there's also internal control and prudence versus flexibility, even liability. Some companies block access to social networking sites from corporate networks; others are creating their own corporate social networking sites, though we found companies concerned about the amount of time employees spend on them.
Our interview, observation, and survey data all suggest the lowest-hanging fruit issurprise!picked first. Wikis, blogs, and social networks, perhaps due to their consumer-to-consumer origins, have been deployed more than the other Web 2.0 technologies. Fear of the unknown might explain why virtual worlds, folksonomies, crowdsourcing, and even RSS filters have lagged deployment of the wiki/blog/social network big three.
It also appears the survey respondents have not yet discovered the second-level potential of Web 2.0 technologies. Mashup technology is potentially extremely powerful but has not yet penetrated the rapid-application-development mind-set. Similarly, the customer-relationship-management mind-set is under-influenced by Web 2.0 technologies.
One important factor constraining adoption of Web 2.0 technology is the existing applications portfolio in companies with substantial technology budgets. In addition to the perennial issues around asset amortization, not-invented-here constraints restrict introduction of new applications based on new technologies. This walled-garden effect is real in many companies, restricting adoption of new technologies, applications, and even processes.
Some Web 2.0 technologies are operational, and some are employee- and customer-facing. Figures 3 and 4 suggest a relationship between complexity and adoption and an important distinction between operational and facing technologies. We should assume that simple (versus complex) facing technologies will be adopted more quickly than complicated operational ones.
Web 2.0 technology also fuels the broad area of information warfare. Just as cyberbullying is a nasty trend in the consumer world, anonymous blogging can hurt business, images, and brands. The number of incidents designed to harm companies (some-times specifically targeted) is growing dramatically. Companies will have to increase their cybervigilance and invest in countermeasures. Web 2.0 technology also empowers disgruntled employees who might want to hurt their companies. Whistleblowing promises to take on new forms through Web 2.0 channels.
As more Web 2.0 technologies are deployed, and as early impact is positively assessed, additional deployment and additional productivity can be expected. Momentum breeds momentum, and the second-order impact of the technologies will be felt as momentum grows. While "simple is good" today, "complex and powerful" will define tomorrow's deployment of Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies.
Regardless of the reason, we found a gap between what was expected and what actually occurred.
Web 3.0 technologies should be anticipated. According to Wikipedia. org, Web 3.0 technologies include: "The emergence of 'The Data Web' as structured data records are published to the Web in reusable and remotely queryable formats. The Data Web enables a new level of data integration and application interoperability, making data as openly accessible and linkable as Web pages. The Data Web is the first step on the path toward the full Semantic Web. The full Semantic Web will widen the scope such that both structured data and even what is traditionally thought of as unstructured or semi-structured content (such as Web pages and documents) will be widely available in RDF and OWL semantic formats. Web site parse templates will be used by Web 3.0 crawlers to get more precise information about Web sites' structured content. Web 3.0 has also been used to describe an evolutionary path for the Web that leads to artificial intelligence that can reason about the Web in a quasi-human fashion."
Next-generation Web technology will be proactive, intelligent, contextual, automated, and adaptive. While we examined adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, imagine the analyses of Web 3.0 technology adoption we'll eventually conduct. When technology integrates seamlessly into business processes at all levels we can expect impact to be immediate and dramatic. The full potential of Web 3.0 is years away, but the drivers of Web 2.0 technology adoption already provide clues to how ubiquitous Web 3.0 is likely to be.
I would like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for supporting the interview and direct observation processes; Villanova University and the Cutter Consortium for supporting the collection of the survey data; and A. Frank Mayadas of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for his always excellent comments and insights along the way.
1. Ahn, Y.-Y., Han, S., Kwak, H., Moon, S., and Jeong, H. Semantic Web and Web 2.0: Analysis of topological characteristics of huge online social networking services. In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on World Wide Web (Calgary, 2007).
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a. Wikis, blogs, and folksonomies reflect the ability to link data, information, and knowledge previously unlinked (see www.linked-data.org). Web 2.0 tools "free" users from corporate restrictions on access, content, and transaction processing, so are both a blessing and a curse.
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