Sunday, April 15, 2007

An Evangelical Sunday

The High Mass of community evangelism was held on Sunday morning in the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Yes it is Web 2.0 Expo time and AOL is here to show wares to an anticipated 7-10,000 attendees. Yes, AOL is a platinum sponsor at this event. The event has all the hallmarks of a subject going mainstream. Web 2.0 is no longer rumour - it looks very much a reality. The conference and workshops have six tracks focusing on different aspects of Web 2.0 so I can't hope to cover everything but watch out for posts here throughout the course of the conference. So off we go. It is 9:30 on Sunday morning and a few thousand people are milling around the Moscone West Center in San Francisco deciding which chapel they are attending. For myself I have chosen the morning mass of Community Evangelism. There were some interesting insights made by the presenters, Anil Dash and Deborah Shultz that affect how to implement Web 2.0 technologies inside or outside an organization.

A date stamp is an implicit social contract

New social technologies such as blogs have a permalink that embeds a date stamp in a blog entry. The date stamp represents an implicit commitment to update with new information as it emerges. It is very easy to start publishing a blog. The harder part is the commitment to keep publishing entries on a regular basis. Other new generation tools such as the Wiki have a similar social commitment through the provision of an edit button. This enables the users to participate in the creation and ongoing evolution of the site and its content. Blogs and Wikis have an important role in creating community and team comraderie. IM and email conversations are transient. They can disappear with the push of the delete key. Blogs and Wikis provide persistence. They also give control back to the consumer of information. Whereas the email author currently controls when you receive a communication a publication to a blog can be consumed by the reader in their own time. They decide when it is relevant. Another interesting point that was made was in taking a look at some of the technology products that people love. The best known examples of these products are:

The reason for these products triggering such passion is that they give us, as users, control. For example, with Tivo I don't have to sit through the ads. I can watch a one hour show in about 43 minutes. Or, if you are like my kids they will replay some ads over and over and watch a 30 minute show in an hour.

In the Web 2.0 World the success of RSS syndication has been dramatic because, unlike email, RSS gives the user the control over when they choose to deal with the content. Once again the issue is that the balance of control is placed in the hands of the user.

Can companies hold back the tide of Web 2.0 technologies?

The expected 7,000-10,000 attendees to the Web 2.0 Expo indicates that Web 2.0 is going mainstream. These technologies are in every day use outside the company walls. Our kids are familiar and comfortable with the technologies as is the new entrants in to the workforce. The shift is real. Control is being ceded to the user and consumer. Corporations are no longer in total control. If they don't want to participate that is their choice but they have to be aware that it will not stop the conversations. If an organization wants to be viewed positively by their customers they need to join the conversation. The web is live, it is dynamic and it is in the hands of the user. It is decentralized and increasingly democratized. A single person has the power to publish and with the power to publish they have the power to influence. These new Web 2.0 technologies offer the opportunity for an organization to build meaningful relationships with their customers. Jerry Michalski in his book the Relationship Economy made an important point: Transactions are the by-products of healthy relationships. The global economy is shifting from a mass media, consumer mass-marketing model to one that is far more emergent and decentralized. The involuntary loyalty of "sticky" services is falling victim to the far preferable voluntary loyalty won through responsiveness, quality, excellent service, reliability and trustworthiness. Sometimes, transactions don't matter. Corporations can't bury their heads in the sand. They have to take part and engage the customer. Committed customers want to contribute. Committed team members want to contribute. Give them the tools and get out of the way.

Sticking the corporate toe in the pool

Web 2.0 technoligies come in a number of flavors. The typical tool kit consists of:
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Podcasts
  • Rss
  • Video
  • Social networks
  • Chat
  • Email lists
  • Groups/forum
The important thing to remember is not to try to do everything. Pick something and start small. Experiment and find what works for the organization. The whole point is that these tools enable an organization to present a human face and voice in communicating internally and externally. The transparency this leads to develops growing commitment from the community. These tools are not a fad. They can lead to increases in productivity and reduction in communications overload. Organizations that implement blogs and wikis can in fact see a reduction in the volume of email traffic. People begin to work off the same page instead of 15 copies of the same page. It is possible to take a small step in to this new world and it is possible to accomplish this with minor changes in the normal behaviours of users. Email can still be used, just add an extra recipient to the cc list. That recipient can be a blog that maintains a history of the dialogue for a project. These types of actions pay off hansomely when it is time to revisit what happened on a project that occurred 18 months ago and was handled by someone who is no longer with the company. Web 2.0 tools can play a powerful role in collecting and sharing institutional knowledge.

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