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By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 02-07-2007 Print

Web 2.0 technologies have moved into the corporate mainstream, and the impact is real.

If you still think Web 2.0 is the bailiwick of teens and twenty-somethings prowling MySpace and YouTube, you're showing your age. Web 2.0 technologies, including but not limited to blogs, wikis and mashups, are growing up and are hard at work on the Web sites of major companies such as General Motors Corp., FedEx Corp., British Airways plc and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Robert Carter, executive vice president and CIO of Memphis-based FedEx, the $32 billion shipping company, describes the difference between the early days of the Internet and the current Web 2.0 as "a shift from destination to connection. The initial onslaught of the Internet was all about destination. You'd go to FedEx.com or Amazon.com. But Web 2.0 is about connectedness. The Internet is becoming the Global Interconnect." That emphasis on connection is not only translating to more blogging and more wikis, but is also transforming the way software applications are created in the form of Web services. Says Carter: "Web services, the modular components that allow systems to interact and connect with each other, are a primary enabler of this move toward more connection."

Carter views mashups and other Web 2.0 capabilities as significant business opportunities for FedEx. "These new interfaces make FedEx easy to do business with, and they make our customers highly productive." He points to a new print online tool from FedEx Kinko's, where he serves as chairman, as an early example of Web 2.0's potential. The tool lets users upload a file from home, the office, or even a FedEx Kinko's store, and set printing (color, two-sided), binding (stapled or coiled), and other options. According to Carter: "Ajax [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] provides users with that great WYSIWYG experience as they customize their documents." The tool then calls on a Web service that lets users choose where they want the document printed for pickup (a map will display the five nearest FedEx Kinko's locations). Another Web service lets users place shipping instructions if they prefer to ship or courier their printed order, rather than pick it up. An example of connection supplanting destination? Not exactly. As Carter readily admits, "you still need to go to FedEx.com and click on the FedEx Kinko's tab to access it." But he's working on it.

Of course, these pockets of Web 2.0 progress can be found in many enterprises. But it remains to be seen whether companies can sufficiently rein them in to serve their most strategic business objectives. And can these disparate technologies work in concert to achieve broader corporate goals? There is some fear that doing so could destroy the transparency, spontaneity and simplicity that make the tools so valuable in the first place. At the very least, however, there is now an opportunity for IT departments to exercise a little more control over the dissemination of Web 2.0 products in the enterprise.


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