Friday, July 15, 2005

Deconstructing the New Internet?




InformIT has an article describing the blogo/wiki/RSS sphere as The New Internet.


That's a correct assessment of the situation.


Wikis, weblogs, and RSS do work together as a New Internet, a Populist Internet, a Grassroots Revolution Internet...

...a New Internet with Every Human as Potential Publisher and Marketer.

Each of us can push any agenda or product or personality we so desire, on a basically level playing field.

No need of complex, expensive Content Management Systems (CMS), no more WebMasters, no more Web Designers, no Usability Analysts, just man or woman and machine, human and computer, hooked into the web via the blogo/wikisphere, enhanced by RSS.

No need to listen only to what corporations say about products. We can now easily talk to each other, and talk back to the corporations, too.



[QUOTE with STREIGHT commentary]


Wikis, Weblogs and RSS: What Does the New Internet Mean for Business?



* By: Knowledge@Wharton.

* Article courtesy of: Wharton School Publishing.

* Date: Jul 15, 2005.


The Internet may be entering a new phase that will decentralize control inside companies, enable employees to collaborate more easily, and drive efficiency.

But corporations that want to use the web strategically to build corporate value will not just need to make radical cultural changes, they may also need to master a new vocabulary with terms such as

Wikis (software that allows anyone to update and edit web pages instantly and democratically);


[STREIGHT: Not necessarily "anyone". A wiki lets those who have been allowed administrative privilege to add, delete, or change specified sections of content.

"Democratically" is also not totally accurate. Administrative edit privilege may be given only to a closed circle of contributors who have been given username and password. There are public wikis and private wikis, same as blogs, forums, and journals.]



Weblogs (online journals more commonly known as blogs);


[STREIGHT: I hate it when blogs are called online journals. You might as well say newspapers are sensationalistic gossip compilations. Online journal is just one type of blog, and the least important.

Weblogs are fast and easy platforms for web content publishing, now available for non-technical content authors. Dated entries of various types of text, photos, art, video, audio and other files are displayed in reverse chronological order and may be archived categorically for easy reference and retrieval.]



and

RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, which distribute content from the Internet.


[STREIGHT: RSS does more than "distribute content from the internet". It pushes content updates to subscriber computers' web browsers or desktops, to alleviate the need for visiting the sites subscribed to, saving time and effort.]


Arcane as these terms may sound to anyone but the initiated, the technology behind them is hardly fancy.

Wikis, blogs and RSS feeds are relatively simple tools that will have a huge impact on the way people -- and companies -- communicate and do business.

So how is the Internet changing?

How can companies seek to understand the technological effects of these changes?


[STREIGHT: See how the emphasis is on "understanding" the effects, rather than "reaping advantages from". This belies the underlying insecurity and confusion of business people on this topic, which is inept and inexcusable on their part. They want short-cuts and fast ROI (return on investment). Yet as Rafat Ali of Paid Content says, forget ROI or you'll end up DOA (dead on arrival). Good will and investing in customer good will and the future is better than short-term, short-sighted ROI.]


And what cultural adaptations should companies make to capture value from these new tools?


[STREIGHT: Notice the corpo-centric viewpoint here. Not "how companies can serve customers and increase satisfaction", nor "how to take advantage of these opportunities to surpass competitors in providing value to consumers".]



Kevin Werbach, a Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, discussed such questions with three experts who will be speaking at the Supernova 2005 conference later this month in San Francisco.

Philip Evans is a senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group, known for his work on information technology and business strategy; he is the co-author of the book, Blown to Bits.

Janice Fraser is CEO of Adaptive Path, a user experience consulting firm. Her essay, "It's a Whole New Internet," will be the basis of a workshop at Supernova 2005.

Ross Mayfield is CEO of Socialtext, a startup provider of lightweight business collaboration software based Wikis.

(Disclosure: Werbach serves on Socialtext's advisory board.)




Werbach: Let me start with you, Janice. You recently posted an essay that got a great deal of attention called, "It's a Whole New Internet." I'm curious what you think is potentially new about the Internet today and what that might mean for business?

Fraser: Two things are new about the Internet today. I'm going to separate technology from human beings.


[STREIGHT: Gosh, I didn't know they, or we, were so inextricably intertwined.]


Some new technologies are coming out now that make different kinds of interactivity possible with online applications. But what is really new is what people are doing with existing technology.


[STREIGHT: Slow down. Back up. You went from "new technologies...different kinds of interactivity" to "existing technology" in the space of two sequential sentences. What new technologies?]


I have seen lots of excitement in the last six months about what's possible.


{STREIGHT: Sorry, but "I have seen lots of excitement" is shit. This tells me nothing. What the hell are you trying to talk about?]


There have been, for example, applications such as Google Maps that have allowed people to envision new ways of working -- but when I say it's a whole new Internet I mean there's new vigor. And that's going to lead to more creative thinking.

When you look at the trends in web development, you will see a shift from what I call

host-provided value

-- such as CitySearch (where publishers provide local events listings in different cities) --

to

user-provided value

in websites such as Upcoming.org (a global events calendar managed by users).


There is a giving up of control.


The new web applications are lightweight, single function, and focused on a specific problem or interaction.


[STREIGHT: And this is called...a web application. What's so new about that? Blogs are not "single function" but are incorporating music, video, podcasts, photos, art, polls, surveys, downloadable reports, ebooks, etc.]


When you combine that trend with creative developers who are beginning to have the energy and insight to recombine technologies in new ways, you get not the explosive growth of the 1990s, but you get something more relevant.


[STREIGHT: No offense, but I'm lost. What is "not explosive growth" but rather "something more relevant"? This is very muddy writing.]


I can't anticipate exactly what that will be, but I see the potential for businesses to change the way they think about developing and deploying technologies.


[STREIGHT: More corporate fluff talk that tells me, again, absolutely nothing. Yawn.]


When you combine applications like blogs, Wikis and RSS feeds and put a front end on them, that's a different vision for the Internet and knowledge-sharing and management.


[STREIGHT: Here we go again: "...a different vision for [net and KM]." Oh, yeah? Well, I'm listening. Different? In what way? Oh, here comes an example...]


One of my favorite examples is:

What happens when you allow IT managers, who are looking to buy enterprise software, to create their own tags for the product documentation on Oracle.com?

What has to change in business when you let users take control of their own experience?


[STREIGHT: Hold on one dang minute. I thought I was going to get examples of concrete implementations, not hypothetical queries. A question is not an example.]


When I introduce that to experienced designers, their response is that this would never happen because it requires a cultural change inside Oracle. But that's the point.


[STREIGHT: No. There is still no point being made. This is a big bunch of nothing. I still have not heard any profound insights on wikis, weblogs, and RSS. What's so new about the "New Internet"? I know, but I wonder if you do, or if you know how to articulate it.]


Werbach: Just to make sure people understand, your firm does user experience and information architecture work for various companies. Tags are user-generated classifications of data where the users label something as opposed to a more centralized approach. Correct?


[STREIGHT: Notice how Werbach has to jump in here, at this point, where he suspects audiences are going to be fidgeting and gazing about at the ceiling for an escape hatch, this is so boring, roundabout, and insubstantial.]


Fraser: That is correct.

Werbach: Let me ask Philip and Ross. Do you see the same kind of enthusiasm?


[STREIGHT: Who cares? I don't care about who's enthusiastic about what. Their enthusiasm may readily be misplaced. Tell me about actual practices and results. Skip the bullshit, okay?]


Evans: I agree strongly with the picture Janice is presenting.


[STREIGHT: Somebody wake me up when this is over. What picture? What strong agreement? zzzzzzzz]


It's interesting because if you go back to the thinking of the earliest visionaries with respect to the Internet, that was exactly the picture they were painting.

But then we went through a period when people believed that the gravity-defying dot-com was going to inherit this technology and redefine institutions -- and that phase came and went rather fast.



[STREIGHT: This is torture. Okay, this is only the 50 millionth time I've heard that the original dot com enthusiasm has now matured into...some dumb ass thing. Who cares? This is more fluff.]



In the years that followed, the Internet was perceived as just an extension of business as usual.

A lot of activity on the Internet moved to a point where corporations saw it as simply another distribution channel, advertising channel, or platform where consumers could fill out forms, or whatever.


[STREIGHT: Check it out, "...where consumers could fill out forms, or whatever". This is symptomatic of the sick corpo-centric attitude that blogs are destroying forever. Wake up Mr. Businessperson. Your self-centered days are over. The "whatever" includes blogs and other online forums in which consumers are telling other consumers that your products suck, the CEO is an idiot, and the customer service is offshore outsourced crap.]


Now we are seeing companies choose to work in ways that's much closer to the original vision of the Internet being a medium that is genuinely peer-to-peer, is loosely coupled, and sparks different kinds of interactions.

The great step forward is not the technology itself -- the blogs, etc. are wonderful, but technologically minor -- but rather one of new perceptions or how people see fresh possibilities and may be willing to invest in them in new ways. We have come full circle.


[STREIGHT: Thanks for the astute and empty insights. I am zero percent smarter now having read this corpo-centric fluff. All we need to do is read The Cluetrain Manifesto and Gonzo Marketing.]


Mayfield: When we co-founded Socialtext at the first Supernova conference, there was this amazing panel on collaboration describing highly structured workflow-oriented ways of collaboration for the sake of compliance.

Back then, we saw the opportunity to create tools that could serve as centralized resources with more decentralized authority.

That kind of framework changes a couple of things.

How do you approach it as a tool designer?

For one thing, you are creating tools to hand over control to users to create their own environments better adapted to their own situation.



[STREIGHT: The average personal trivia blogger knows all this. Are businesses really that stupid and out of touch that they need to be told what a "pimply faced teenager" already knows and practices? Pathetic.]



The other part of it is that as others have said, it's not so much about the technology, but more about the practice and how it is used in a way that's actually changing people's minds and the way they are working.

We see wonderful rich cultures in communities such as Wikipedia (a free encyclopedia that any user can edit) that are doing things that people thought wouldn't work if you stepped back and tried to design it.

But somehow these things -- messy as they are -- happen to work in ways that shouldn't work.


[STREIGHT: Who says they "shouldn't work"? Very arrogant for corpo-zombies to resent the fact that what the teens and us geeks are using to communicate "shouldn't work". Grrr...]


You're encouraging collaboration on a large scale, you're giving users control over a resource, and by sharing that control you actually foster trust between the participants and the community.


[STREIGHT: No. Not "sharing that control". We have seized it. The Powers That Pretend to Be are shit out of luck. We are in control. Welcome to the rough and tumble world of blogs.]



Werbach: If it's not technological breakthroughs, what has changed that has enabled us to finally get back to where the Internet was going to begin with?


[STREIGHT: See? This is where this little, and I do mean little, discussion has gone wrong. It is Evan Williams, Blogger, LiveJournal, iPod, podcasting, JotSpot, RSS, Atom, Easy Web Stats, Hello/Picasa, Flickr, and all the other Technologies that have changed the way people communicate, interact, collaborate, work...and play...and socialize.]


Mayfield: I can explain that a little bit.

We spent a lot of time developing physical infrastructure, and now we have to develop the social infrastructure on top of it.

The earliest adopters of the Internet were the geeks and hackers who were using the web for social purposes.

Out of all that social interaction they realized that if they could find a way to let go of a tiny bit of control, they could invent whole new models of production. They could encourage common-goal production, rather than production driven by markets or companies.


[STREIGHT: Okay, now, finally, you're talking my language and making some iota of sense. Yes sir, we don't want markets or corporations "driving" anything anymore, it's all messed up.]


As more and more people are on the web longer, they have more access to tools and discover new ways to interact.

This means you end up with a phenomenon that is as disruptive as the open source phenomenon in software -- but now you see it in the media, with blogs, with communities like Wikipedia, in politics (as evidenced by the Howard Dean campaign) and many other sectors.

I think such interactions have now reached a critical mass.

There may be some value to letting these tools evolve in almost a Darwinian fashion on the public Internet.


[STREIGHT: I'm starting to like this person now.]


One danger, however, is that of assuming that you can just grab some of these tools that have great social dynamics on the public web and believe they will work equally well inside an enterprise.

Let's say you develop a great tool that lets you build new applications on your own for generating forms and collecting data.

Imagine what would happen to the HR department when you get all those decentralized reports. There's a risk there too.

Fraser: There's a tremendous amount of risk involved here, which is why it will take quite a while to really change enterprises.

As for the question regarding what has changed to make this possible, I think the large, feature-rich multimillion dollar IT systems aren't working as promised.

Over the last eight years, so much investment has been made in infrastructure within the enterprise and the human infrastructure to support costly functions of business such as email, product support web sites, travel tickets.

These have gone electronic and increasingly have a self-service model, but they result in terrible experiences and are not accomplishing what they were supposed to.

So you have a highly skilled workforce of people who know what's not working, and I believe a lot of that experience is being applied outside the enterprise in new and different ways.

It's as much of a reaction against something as much as it is for something.

When it comes time to move these innovative approaches around collaboration, it's going to mean more culturally and operationally.

It's going to have to change how information technology departments operate and how legal departments get involved with other different functions.

A fellow organizational consultant recently told me about a large Fortune 100 corporation that is trying to figure out how to integrate open source concepts within its internal IT development because it realizes the old methods aren't working.

The major roadblock is not changing the behavior of the developers; it is with the compliance and legal departments.

How do you convince the general counsel and CFO that it is necessary to change the way you develop products?

It's going to take 10 to 15 years to figure this out.

Werbach: Philip, you work with a lot of large corporations. How do you convince them to operate with a more decentralized approach?

Evans: One of the simplest arguments I've used to get people out of a traditional mindset is to point out a statistic -- the cost of transactions in the U.S.

More than 50% of the non-government GDP in the U.S. is based on transaction costs.

Now, what's interesting is that the way most people think about economics is that execution costs are on the periphery.

If you start from the premise that transaction costs are central to the productivity of any system, and if you then recognize that most of our time is spent negotiating, securing, monitoring, making sure people did what we expected them to do, dealing with the fact that motivations aren't entirely aligned, and so on, you realize that we have to find a way of working together amid this asymmetry of information.

About half of our time is spent doing those things.

This changes the way you think about productivity in organizations where innovation, adaptability and dealing with complexity are the key challenges.

So much of reengineering, which is what major corporations have been about for the last 10 or 15 years, has been about linear efficiency -- lining everything up in as tight a way as possible along a path.

That's wonderful if you know exactly what it is you want to do, and the aim of that task will never change.

Increasingly, that's not the relevant challenge.

The challenge is adaptability, complexity, uncertainty and your capacity to mine the elements of your business, people and knowledge into different and new combinations.

If that's what you are trying to do, then your transaction costs become the biggest inhibitor to your capacity to do that.

The key thing about the principles that Ross and Janice were describing is that they enable an environment where transaction costs are lower.

Mayfield: Philip is making a brilliant point.

It used to be easy to measure transaction costs especially when looking at economies of scale and speed.

That's what helped justify centralization in vertically integrated firms.

In the more dynamic and decentralized world, the value shifts to economies of scope.

The real problem that we have is we have no transaction-cost analysis like "build versus buy" for determining whether I should share an asset and cooperate with other firms to develop greater capabilities.

To create such opportunities and convince managers and decision makers that they are worthwhile, you have to deal with the fact they have been schooled in a different kind of thought.

Fundamentally they have been schooled in a competitive environment where you gain by hoarding information and where there's no rationale for more open architectures and participation.

Evans: That's exactly right.

There's a spectacular example which illustrates that technology isn't really the key.

When you compare Toyota with the Big Three automakers in the U.S. there's a fundamental difference in the way they deal with their suppliers.

The Big Three basically negotiate to the last penny.

In particular, if a supplier succeeds in a process improvement that lowers costs, he knows darn well in one negotiation round that General Motors will come back and demand a price concession taking away that benefit.

That gives that supplier a very powerful incentive not to share with anybody, least of all General Motors, what that process improvement was.

Toyota has a different philosophy.

The company allows its suppliers to keep the benefits of their innovation, but it insists that that process improvement in technology is shared not just with Toyota but also with all the other component suppliers.

As a result, you see among that population of 60 or 70 companies a rate of sharing ideas beyond what you see in the U.S.

It has a cumulative effect over time of driving up productivity in the whole Toyota supply chain.

Over a 30-year period, its productivity has gone up six times as much as in the U.S. system.

I think that's entirely because of the difference in philosophies.

At a time when 50% of the cost of a car comes from outside components, and your suppliers are 600% more productive, that buys you one hell of an advantage -- even if you give some of it back to them in price concessions.

Werbach: Let's take it down a level.

Can you give concrete examples of how Wiki-based collaboration software actually applies in an organization?

Mayfield: The more traditional uses of Wiki-based software involve project communication and documentation.

In the case of an intranet, you can take what was essentially a 30-day process for getting anything posted and open it up for more decentralized contributions. Most of the use for social software in enterprises ends up coming in from the bottom up.

Fraser: Dreamworks has moved over to a Wiki-based intranet. For me, the connecting theme is about decentralization and relinquishing control and allowing the intranet to grow in ways that are useful to the people using it.


[END QUOTE]

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