Social media and Web 2.0 – revolution not evolution

I was reading an article by Martin Veitch in last week’s IT Week about the release if IBM’s Lotus Connections, a set of tools that brings MySpace-like social networking to big business. IBM has been reported as saying that …"Connections will offer a way to automate knowledge management through the usability of social software combined with security, authentication, directory, storage management and integration with enterprise software such as Lotus Notes". This coming hot on the heals of Microsoft providing wiki-like functionality to Sharepoint.

What I’ve not been able to detect with all this Enterprise 2.0/Web 2.0  hype emanating from the  big vendors is any real understanding of the human side of social networking and how to cross the divide between the hobbyist and fun culture underlying environments such as Myspace and Flickr, and the culture of big business or government. Control and command cultures still dominate, particularly in the world of central government, where the very thought of having self-organising communities of practice that might threaten the unitary culture is tantamount to encouraging revolution! Encouragingly, there is growing evidence that social networking and use of software to facilitate more effective networking and knowledge sharing is gaining some foot holds in local government.  However, even here, interference by IT departments (wherever they detect some loss of control) and managers who ‘just don’t get it’ can still deter all but the resolute. Maybe its not quite a revolution yet, but the natives are definitely stirring. The IDeA’s version of Enterprise 2.0 – its Community of Practice platform – has grown from nothing to supporting 29 CoPs in only 4 months. My own experience during this time has been that developing the software tools is the easy bit; getting people to understand that this heralds an entirely different way of working is the challenge. I’d like to see some of the big vendors in this space, such as IBM and Microsoft, devoting a bit more time and attention to the cultural shift that must occur before there is any significant take-up of social software within business or government. The revolution is coming, but the rebels need some help!


  1. I agree with you about the relative unimportance of the software compared with the people/cultural issues. I question two assumptions, however. The first is the need for a cultural shift to precede take-up of social software. Better, I think, to work for incremental changes like getting people to cc certain emails to a weblog. That’s a walk in the hills; culture change is climbing Everest! The second is the is that the big boys can be counted on to help out with cultural shifts. In the case of Microsoft, I assumed Sharepoint was designed to keep us in thrall to Office, which is part of the problem, not the solution. I’m surprised they have introduced a wiki.

    February 5, 2007
  2. Nancy White said:

    I’d love to know more about you CoP platform. Another pal pointed me to it the other day (Shawn Callahan of Anecdote). Second, I’m nodding in total agreement with Simon! I have a friend at a NGO who has chosen SharePoint as a portal for their NGO with a goal of using it as a base for CoPs. I keep looking for stories and examples of success in this application. It is scary how hard they are to find. Queries to the company go unanswered. It becomes very hard to successfully steward the application of this technology for communities.

    A gift of “free software” (not open source type free) seems like a great promise, a lure to use a product. Sucking into the vortex of a product line. Sigh.

    February 11, 2007

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