Web 2.0 in business

Three qualities make Web 2.0 resemble the Internet in the 1990s: it is over-hyped, it is poorly understood and it is – without doubt – revolutionising business.

The technical definition of the term Web 2.0 emerged from publisher Tim O’Reilly in 2004: “The business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform.” But with the phrase ‘cloud computing’ having since emerged as the preferred buzzword denoting the use of the Internet as a computing platform, Web 2.0 is now more often used to describe a new generation of web-based services that allow people to interact, collaborate and share information.

Put simply, Web 2.0 replaces the view of a website as analogous to a publication, wherein a trusted source provides information to be consumed by the user, with one that sees websites as tools for structured interaction between people. ‘Social media’ is a common, perhaps more meaningful, alternative term.

Blogs, wikis, social networks, social bookmarking, news aggregation sites: the litany of tools that make up Web 2.0 are numerous, and they are constantly evolving and recombining.

The implications for business are numerous. For one, Web 2.0 changes the way customers interact with one another and that demands a change in the way business communicate with their markets.

A company website that is a simply an online product brochure is a wasted opportunity. More progressive companies are using theirs to stimulate discussion and community around their brand, products and services, and are harvesting invaluable customer insight as a result.

And it doesn’t stop with the official company website: many organisations monitor and participate in external online communities, where consumers are sharing opinions and experience of the businesses they patronise.

As equally significant as the impact of Web 2.0 on consumers and customers are the implications for internal collaboration. That workhorse of internal communication – email – is looking decidedly tired as more effective and more efficient communication and collaboration tools devised in the consumer realm work their way into corporate life.

But some companies have a much better appreciation of how to apply Web 2.0 than others. The 10 projects described here have been selected to represent the diversity of innovations that fit under that broad heading. Some, such as Dell and PlusNet, show companies using Web 2.0 tools to find out how they can serve their customers better. Others, like Wachovia Bank and Best Buy, demonstrate the ability of Web 2.0 tools to help organisations work together better, document their implicit knowledge and even improve social cohesion.

But every example shows why it is imperative for enterprise IT departments to reach an understanding of Web 2.0, from both a technical and social perspective. Indeed, the advent of Web 2.0 gives IT a unique opportunity to become more innovative, more creative and a more valuable part of business. By enabling collaboration and fostering community, they can inject major value to the activities of business units as diverse as marketing, customer service and business development.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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