The First Year of Enterprise 2.0, and the Second

Since Sloan Management Review published "Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration" in the spring of 2006, a lot has happened.  Many people have discussed the tools, technologies, approaches, and philosophies of Enterprise 2.0 in conferences, articles, interviews, and blogs.  Even more importantly, many companies have moved past discussion to deployment, and are building Intranets that resemble today’s Internet:  multi-voiced, egalitarian, social, dynamic, self-organizing, and benefiting from network effects.

My Enterprise 2.0-related highlights from 2006  include:

Conferences:

It looks like the conference circuit will heat up in 2007.  The Fastforward conference, for example, takes place February 7-9 in San Diego and describes its focus as "Enterprise 2.0 and how today’s companies and individuals are harnessing technology to collaborate, innovate, manage knowledge and much more."  And the CTC conference, held yearly in Boston in June, has changed its name to Enterprise 2.0!

Conversations and Case Studies with, among others,

Articles in:

And, of course, blogs and bloggers too numerous to mention.  I’d list a few, but I know I’d just wind up leaving out a colleague who’s been important to me.  So I’ll avoid that inadvertent snub and wait until HBS faculty blogs include a blogroll.

Across all of these, I’ve noticed many areas of agreement and convergence.  These include the ideas that Enterprise 2.0 is: 

  • Composed of platforms where content is persistent and globally visible, not channels (like email) where transmissions can’t be easily traced or consulted.
  • Lightweight:  not hard to deploy or learn
  • Initially freeform and unstructured
  • Eventually emergent and self-organizing
  • Composed of SLATES (search, links, authoring, tags, extensions, and signals)
  • A decent vehicle for capturing or pointing to knowledge.  E2.0, in other words, might fulfill some of the promise of KM systems.
  • Largely dependent on human issues, not technical ones.

However, not all the news related to E2.0 was good news in 2006.  For me, the most disheartening event was Wikipedia’s "Enterprise 2.0" article being nominated for deletion from the online encyclopedia, and having to go through the articles for deletion process.  Like many of us, I am a huge fan and user of Wikipedia, and have held it up as a prime example of how technology lets large numbers of people come together, collaborate, and generate highly valuable outputs.  So it was a blow when a concept I’d helped originate was deemed by some to be unworthy of inclusion.  

Along with Ross Mayfield and a couple others I participated in the articles for deletion process. I was gratified when the official result of this process was that the article on Enterprise 2.0 be kept, then mystified when an administrator acted after this decision to strip much of the article’s content and rename it "Enterprise Social Software."  As of the time of this writing that title remains, and the article is considered a stub.  Of course, I or anyone else could change the title or beef up the article.  But I find that I just don’t have the bandwidth to slug it out with anyone who decides to disagree, and I’m apparently not alone.  The current version of the article has fewer edits and editors than did the original one.  It seems that those of us who are interested in the concept have moved on to other forums.  It also seems like Wikipedia’s deletionists have lost twice on this one; they lost the argument over deleting the article, and they also lost the interest of some people who were interested in contributing to the community.

My other 2006 disappointment was seeing attempts to expand the definition of "Enterprise 2.0" well beyond the one I proposed in May:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

As I’ve written in a couple blog posts, some people are trying to broaden this definition to something like "all the interesting things that are happening in the enterprise software market."  I think this is a bad idea; it will lead to confusion, and to a loss of interest by senior executives within companies.  Who wants that?

Looking Ahead

I like the predictions for Enterprise 2.0 in 2007 made by Dion Hinchcliffe and Rod Boothby, and won’t try to go head-to-head with them.  Instead, I want to present a few scenarios for how E2.0 is going to progress in the coming year.  It’s very hard for me to believe that the trends we’ve been observing are going to sputter to a halt in 2007; there’s simply too much momentum, and too compelling a justification.  But it’s also hard to believe that all companies are going to try to deploy E2.0 tools and techniques, or that all of those that do are going to succeed in filling up the ’empty quarter’ of non-adopters within their organizations.  I can envision three broad scenarios:

  1. Niches.  Enterprise 2.0 remains confined to geek-heavy groups (e.g. IT departments), companies, and/or industries (software).  Techies and newbies use the new tools routinely as part of their jobs, but few others do.  And users of Enterprise 2.0 software will have to continue to use email with their older and more square colleagues.
  2. Spotty mainstream penetration.  The management of some mainstream companies makes the necessary investments —  of money, time, and their own energy —  and succeeds in deploying an E2.0 infrastructure and getting it widely used.  Most of their competitors remain unaware, unwilling, or unable.
  3. Deep penetration.  Blogs, wikis, tags, cloud views, RSS aggregators, etc.  become the principle collaboration tools used by most companies.

I think the third scenario is the least likely.  Enterprise 2.0 is too big a phase shift, and the 9X problem of email too real, to permit deep penetration by the end of 2007.  This implies that E2.0 deployment will continue to be highly uneven.  And this in turn implies, I believe, that these tools will be competitive differentiators, rather than levelers.  We’ll have to watch closely to see if this is in fact the case.

Happy New Year!