Web 2.0: Too Good to Be True?

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 02-07-2008

Web 2.0: Too Good to Be True?

From the start, technologists and marketers promoted Web 2.0 technologies--Wikis! Blogs! Podcasts!--as smarter, cheaper ways to communicate with employees, partners and customers.


It all sounded so appealing businesses couldn't help but buy in: Throughout 2007, surveys showed an increasing number of Web 2.0 deployments in the corporate world.


But is Web 2.0 not all it's cracked up to be? Were businesses sold a bill of goods?


You won't find many doubters about the collaborative powers Web 2.0 tools possess, and few will say they're not making teams more efficient. It's the money-saving argument that's getting pushback lately.


Collaborative tools are overloading employees and killing productivity--to the tune of $588 billion a year, according to a January study by Basex, a collaboration technologies consulting firm. And that assumes knowledge workers make $21 per hour--a conservative estimate--meaning the damage could exceed a half-trillion dollars.


Is it possible the tools that were supposed to make workers more efficient and productive are crushing those very advantages?


Corporate executives also worry that Web 2.0 tools pose a security threat. Fifty-two percent of 472 executives say securing and protecting sensitive data was the top barrier to adopting the tools, according to a January poll by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research and advisory firm, for business consultancy KPMG.


There's a strong argument here, and CIOs and CISOs listen hard to data threats. They don't have much choice, given all the negative press and drops in customer confidence following a string of major data thefts in recent years. Security pros are always contending with new applications and systems, figuring out how to secure them and the data within from evildoers inside and outside their companies.


Page 2: Fresh Can of Worms


Web 2.0: Too Good to Be True?

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Web 2.0 tools open a fresh can of worms. Still, it's tough to put a price tag on the potential damage. Critical corporate data is priceless, as is customer information. Aside from hard dollar costs, the PR nightmares that come with reports of data thefts are enough of an impediment to adoption.


But it's not all bad news for Web 2.0. In the KPMG study, three of four executives said they believe collaborative tools will foster innovation in their companies. And almost 70 percent agreed that Web 2.0 will help their people work more efficiently. A study by Change Wave Research, which surveys companies and industries, found that 39 percent of respondents are willing to use Web 2.0 tools.


Web 2.0 outlets are also flexing their muscle in the 2008 presidential race. Democratic Illinois Senator Barack Obama uses social networks to build support, and Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul has used the Internet to raise unprecedented one-day dollars (the record at press time was $6 million, on December 16). Blogs on each side of the political spectrum are shaping the debate and checking candidates on their often exaggerated claims.


Of course, surveys don't always tell the full story. There's still the question of where Web 2.0 for business goes from here. In the past few months, Microsoft and Google have made major moves in this space--particularly in social networking, where Bill Gates and company bought a stake in Facebook and the Googleplex reintroduced its own social net offering, with numerous notable partners.


The bidding-up isn't likely to stop anytime soon. Many tech cognoscenti point to some corners of Web 2.0 as the next great Internet boom. More companies are bound to bring in these tools, looking for a boost in productivity, efficiency and morale.


But if the alarming survey results are any indication, CIOs and their colleagues will be looking more closely at the potential downside.