Late in 1995, I paid seventy-five bucks to a guy who lived down my street for a Zoltrix 14.4 K PC internal modulator/demodulator card. Its purpose was to connect my new 486 DX-100 to ‘the Internet’ – this newfangled collective of computers talking to each other. I then proceeded to spend an entire weekend with cables, and drivers, and Windows, while I tried to figure it out. Eventually, my Mom got so fed up with not being able to ring my house (because the only phone line was always engaged) that she came over.
When I explained that I was trying to connect my computer to the Internet, she asked me what that was. I thought for a while.
“Well, it’s all the computers in the world connecting to each other.”
My Mom was used to my crazy schemes, and used to humoring me, so she smiled and nodded. Then she said:
“Why would you want to do that?”
At the time, I probably just smiled and said something patronising like “never you mind”and got back to trying to convince Windows 95 to auto-detect the new modem.
But here we are now at Web 2.0, and I think that the question is worth revisiting.
The tools we call “Web 2.0” have been designed to promote connectivity, and sharing, and communication, which is why they are so interesting to people watching Enterprise 2.0. But what are we actually doing with them right now?
Facebook is the poster child for Web 2.0, so let’s take a look at what people are doing on Facebook. Here’s my personal Facebook “Requests” section – things that people want me to “do” on Facebook:
Hmmm. None of this stuff is earth-crashingly important. Surely we didn’t plug all the worlds’ computers together so that we could pretend to be vampires and pirates and then pretend to bite each other?
Or maybe we did… These kinds of technologies have a viral appeal because they’re just fun. They’re not important. They’re silly.
The Internet doesn’t have a point. We’re all just ‘Hanging Out’ .
An enterprise, on the other hand, is completely different. The reason that information enterprises connect their computers to each other is to focus on a single goal. Real estate agents want to sell houses. Software companies want to sell software. Government workers want to have lunch and play Solitaire. That’s what motivates these organizations to create their own intranets, little protected networks that exist outside of the Internet. They have a point.
Despite the whole SAAS fuss, I think that the utility of Enterprise 2.0 lies behind the firewall and not in the Internet cloud. SAAS is an appealing business model for companies because it means that they can charge customers forever, but the real power of Enterprise 2.0 will come from bringing those lessons learned into the organization.
The real benefits will come when we take the technologies of Web 2.0 and give them something meaningful to do.