RealTime IT News

Web 2.0's Higher Standard

SAN FRANCISCO -- First there was Web 2.0: a multi-million-dollar industry riding on the social media aspects of YouTube, Flickr and Blogger. Now, there's Office 2.0, tools to help businesspeople connect and collaborate.

The Office 2.0 Conference, held on Thursday and Friday in San Francisco, brought together 70 vendors offering online applications they say will take business to the next level.

But people's behavior at work doesn't seem to be as flexible as when they're at their leisure. Research from Harvard showed that new business software tools have to be nearly 10 times better before users have enough incentive to change the way they work, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, CTO for the Enterprise Web 2.0 advisory and consulting firm Hinchcliffe & Company.

"The problem we have with social media is that the busiest people in the organization don't have time to use social media tools," Hinchliffe told the Office 2.0 audience. "It will be the new hires who are most skilled in the tools, but they don't have status in the organization."

Corporate blogging has clear benefits: It can put a more personal face on the company and let customers provide honest feedback. But it takes time to keep a blog fresh. As Hinchcliffe pointed out, "Employers are worried about excessive socializing and users spending time writing blog entries instead of doing their core job functions."

Online collaboration is one Web 2.0 function that makes sense to business -- perhaps because it's been around for so long.

No less an eminence grise than IBM has been touting collaboration tools in its Lotus Connections; although it was mostly used as for e-mail, Lotus was designed for teamwork. Microsoft has sounded the horn since it added collaboration to Microsoft Office in 2003.

People already collaborate in the workplace; they used to do it in conference rooms, via fax, and then e-mail. So, in this arena, Web 2.0 has the potential to speed the way people already work instead of requiring them to change.

"People aren't going to change their work habits because there's something new on the event horizon," David Inniss, a business/collaboration consultant, told InternetNews.com. "You have to overlay existing work habits with an enabling technology."

That's why his client, VMIX, is using Central Desktop. Central Desktop, an Office 2.0 exhibitor, is a software-as-service offering that lets teams share and manage documents and spreadsheets, create searchable discussion threads, schedule and host Web meetings, share calendars and create wiki-based intranets.

VMIX provides streaming media content, produced both by professionals and by consumers, to Web publishers. Its clients include the Web sites of McClatchy News and Tribune Interactive.

VMIX has just three account managers to handle more than 300 clients. So, Inniss brought in Central Desktop to provide an extranet for each client. In effect, Central Desktop acts as a client dashboard, letting them track projects, access data and stats, and send and receive communications.

It works, Inniss said, because, "the alternative is e-mail. Without this, an account manager would have to send out e-mails to every one of their client sites."

When Oracle AppsLab, a research group inside the database giant, decided to build a private social networking application, the group leveraged existing tools and behavior.

"We tapped into our LDAP directory for sign-on, so no one had to get a new password, and we pulled in HR data," Paul Pedrazzi, head of the lab, told a panel audience at the conference.

"We just sent an e-mail to 100 people to launch it; overnight, we had 8,000 entries." User adoption has leveled out but continues to grow. It's at about 15 percent of all Oracle personnel, Pedrazzi said. "Leveraging the existing system of e-mail allowed us to put this new social network out."

When it comes to third-party applications, the new culture of openness and sharing still has a long way to go.

Oliver Marks, senior manager of the Web portal that Sony game developers use, had a message for Office 2.0 vendors.

"If you're supplying a hosted service, chances are, I can't use it, because I need access to the source code," he told the audience. "We're not interested in you having our data, and neither are our lawyers. On the other hand, if it's something we can have behind our firewall, we're willing to pay handsomely for it."