The central threads of Web 2.0 - blogs, wikis, user-generated content, bookmarking, social networking groups - are not just providing the wiring for the social web - they are beginning to make their presence felt within the business web too, with some good results. Taking a leaf from their social brethern, some companies are infusing new life into intranets, and even corporate websites with these web 2.0 tools. The use of these tools is increasingly relevant for IT businesses given that they are so knowledge centric.
At the base of the effort triangle are the blogs - many companies have their principal officers run internal/external blogs. As an external tool that plugs into a corporate marketing website, it is an excellent tool for thought leadership positioning. The Infosys telecom blog "Livewire" is a case in point- it has a nice blend of fresh takes on technology application, some analysis, some technology future gazing, all delivered in a personal style which is the essence of a blog. Another tool, that's fairly simply to integrate into an existing web presence are RSS feeds. These can be hooked up to dynamic sections like Jobs/Press releasess/ to good effect.
Moving up the ladder we come to networking tools. Extremely successful in drawing in users and one of the few web 2.0 tools that's pretty ubiquitous in India (at last visit, I saw that my eighth grade English teacher had her own Orkut fan club), networking can be tapped in two ways. The first and possibly the most rewarding is the creation of user communities for customers - this of course is particularly relevant for product companies. A moderated community that can actually share product usage experience and data is a self sustaining marketing idea. Plus it's a great platform to promote new product releases, for organizing user trainings and even for getting advance feedback for under-construction features.
Another interesting way of using networking is to create official alumni online groups - provided of course the bulk of the alumni left on fairly good terms! These networks are great for posting vacancies, getting references or even to stay in touch with employees you may want to re-hire. Companies have the choice of building custom platforms (but this takes time, effort and in the end, may not be best in class because building networking sites may not be your core competency) or using existing online tools. A good example of the latter is the NASSCOM LinkedIn community which uses the LinkedIn platform to run a network for users who are first validated to see if they are NASSCOM members. The utility is called "LinkedIn for Groups" and it is available free on the LinkedIn site for any group to use.
Upto this point, companies can use one of many online services and most are free. The next two ideas discussed here may require software to be set up for an enterprise to use these.
The next level of services is built around bookmarking. Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg are popular and useful and they can be bent to a business context. One of the most interesting experiments in this area has been the IBM Dogear project. IBM describes the dogear social bookmarking service as the first social bookmarking tool designed to support organizations and large corporations. It works just as social bookmarking sites do. Users can tag/bookmark useful links using Dogear while putting in a few sentences on what/why they found it useful. There were two key differences from the social tool - one was that users had to provide their real corporate identities - this was important to tie this up with corporate email which could extend and complement the use of Dogear. For instance, colleagues at different locations with similar interests or work challenges could, having identified the other through dogear, now correspond through mail. The second was that Dogear was designed to work behind corporate firewalls - this meant that a whole bunch of internal resources - knowledge management systems, employee intranets could all be bookmarked and shared. This is very relevant for multi locational organizations - employees across the spectrum could access useful bookmarks such as- how to requisition common resources/how to fill in assessment forms or even how to fill leave forms! Such tools have great potential as intuitive training and knowledge management plug-ins.
With bookmarking, collaboration kicks in and wikis are the next logical step. While it requires an application to house and manage the wiki, once this is set up, organizations will find that wikis are self sustaining without the overhead of separate teams that intranets normally entail. That's exactly what a leading software product MNC in the spend management space found out when they launched a collaborative wiki one and a half years ago. The wiki is used for knowledge management, project information sharing, news and updates - users have rights for specific sections that they periodically update and each group maintains its own area. The wiki has since cannibalized some of the functions of the intranet and the knowledge management systems since it is always better updated. Since the system is directly updated by users and not collated by a another team, updates tend to get in faster - by taking away the need for a separate intranet team, a wiki is a pretty good cost effective tool for small to mid size businesses.
In fact each and every one of the Web 2.0 tools discussed here is either free or low cost - which underlines one of the greatest values of Web 2.0 itself. There are plenty of creative ways to integrate Web 2.0 tools into your business to derive some genuine benefits. So next time your son/daughter shows you some cool new stuff on del.icio.us/youtube/orkut, take a real close look!