Toward a Pattern Language for Enterprise 2.0

by Andrew McAfee on June 10, 2009

A Pattern Language, published in 1979 by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues, was a landmark book in architecture that also became a landmark in other fields like computer science; one review called it “The decade’s best candidate for a permanently important book.”

It identifies architectural patterns at three levels – towns, buildings, and construction – that seem to work: to be both useful and livable, and to please and welcome people instead of alienating them. Alexander and his team came up with them inductively, by looking at architecture all around the world that worked and asking themselves why it did so. The authors interlink the patterns they identify, and A Pattern Language has been called “perhaps the first complete book ever written in hypertext fashion.”

It’s an amazing piece of work, and it popped into my head recently as I was trying to articulate for myself how Enterprise 2.0 work is different from Enterprise 1.0 work — from how knowledge workers used technology to get their jobs done before all these weird (and wonderful) Web 2.0 tools and communities appeared.

I’ve had for some time now the vague sense that the iPhone, Twitter, Gmail, Googling, Facebook, Wikipedia, Delicious, and other runaway successes are trying to tell us something about how we want to use technology in our lives and in our work, and if we enterprise technologists listen carefully we’ll hear what that something is.

I don’t believe that what they’re telling us is that we have to throw out all of our existing devices and applications and start enterprise IT from scratch. But we do need to throw out some tools, approaches, and philosophies, and incorporate other ones. The enterprise technologists that do the best job of this will be the ones that see their offerings succeed.

I started jotting down some comparisons based on what I’ve seen, read, and experienced for myself, then realized that I was identifying patterns (although far less rigorously and thoroughly than Alexander and his colleagues did). And I thought that in best 2.0 fashion I should open up this work early in the process by posting an initial set of patterns, seeing if they resonate with people, and asking for further contributions.

I’m dividing my 2.0 vs. 1.0 comparisons into two groups. First is a set of patterns where 2.0 is just better than 1.0 —  where the old should, I believe, just be replaced with the new. Second is a set in which 2.0 is an alternative or addition to 1.0, not a replacement for it. This second group of patterns, in other words, shows two alternatives, both of them valuable and viable, for how computers are used to get work done.

Some of these patterns use the broad term ‘technology,’ while others are more specific about devices or applications. They ignore, at least for now, whether it will be technically easy or difficult to accomplish the 2.0 vision. They’re just an initial set of patterns related to 2.0 work, which will hopefully be expanded and refined over time.

Patterns Where 2.0 Should Replace 1.0

2.0 1.0
Technology appears to have been designed for the user Technology appears to have been designed for someone other than the user — the developer, the boss, a lawyer, etc.
Only small amounts of time and training are required to become familiar with a technology It takes significant time and training in order to become minimally competent with a technology
Few steps are required to accomplish basic tasks; technology-based work is ‘frictionless’ Many steps are required to execute basic tasks; technology-based work has a great deal of friction
Devices delight, pleasing the eye and the hand Devices exist to accomplish tasks and are designed only for function, not form
Delays and latency are low; technology responds instantly Delays (especially at startup) can be long and latency can be high
Crashes are no big deal and are easy to recover from Crashes are time-consuming and costly / catastrophic
Relevant data is in the cloud, so it doesn’t matter which device the user employs Relevant data is stored locally at many devices, so it matters which device(s) the user has access to
Users navigate via search Users navigate via menus and directories
Work is accomplished via the browser Work is accomplished via many discrete applications
Technology accurately guesses what users want, is forgiving, and makes users feel smart Users have to guess what the technology wants. The technology is unforgiving and makes users feel stupid
It takes virtually no time to author (to contribute online content) and few if any approval loops exist It’s laborious to author, and many approval loops exist
At its best, technology is welcoming and empowering At its worst, technology is alienating, isolating, and frustrating

Patterns Where 2.0 is an Alternative to 1.0

2.0 1.0
Technology is used to execute spontaneous collaborative work Technology is used to execute planned / predefined business processes
Technology is used to share work and conclusions with others Technology is used to generate or analyze information individually
Technology is used to broadcast information publicly to people both known and unknown Technology is used to transmit information privately to known people
Technology is used to ask questions and solicit information and help from people both known and unknown Technology is used to ask questions and solicit information and help from a small group of already-identified people
Online content is the start of group-level work; it is work in progress Online content is the end point of group-level work; it is finished goods
Online content is generated by many people Online content is generated by a few approved sources
A person finds new colleagues by examining the online content they’ve generated and assessing its quality A person finds new colleagues by asking around an looking through official directories
Information sources give good answers to the questions users thought they were asking Information sources provide complete answers to perfectly phrased questions
Technology is used to create and diffuse new knowledge Technology is used to encode previously-generated knowledge

The ecosystem of the public Web —  its sites, applications, and gadgets — is a truly Darwinian place. It’s crowded, always full of new entrants, and characterized by low switching costs; in many if not most cases, the competition really is only a mouse click away. This makes it a tough environment, and one where only the strong survive. ‘Strong’ in this case, I believe, means something close to ‘delightful and valuable to users.’

Of course, the primary goal of enterprise IT is not to delight users, but rather to increase the value of the company. But do these two outcomes have to be in conflict? I don’t think so. It wouldn’t be prohibitively difficult or expensive for enterprises to adopt 2.0 patterns. The biggest challenge will probably be to get corporate technologists (a group that includes IT departments, vendors, and consultants) to stop thinking like monopolists that can dictate tools to users with great confidence that, because of the lack of alternatives, they’ll get used.

Today there are viable alternatives out there on the Web, and they’re revealing new patterns for getting work done. I can think of four negative consequences of ignoring these patterns and continuing to act like a 1.0 enterprise technology monopolist. In ascending order of severity, they are that enterprises will deploy technologies that are disliked and/or not used; that employees will use ‘stealth IT’ and any knowledge / information captured therein will not be retained by the enterprise; that employees and customers will leave because of their frustration with poor enterprise technologies; and that the the enterprise will be handicapped or crippled  —  less productive, innovative, collaborative, agile, ‘wise,’ foresightful, insightful, transparent, clear than it could be otherwise, or than its competitor is.

What Enterprise 2.0 patterns are you noticing? How should the tables above be expanded? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.

jmcaddell June 10, 2009 at 11:56 am

I was talking with a friend yesterday on Skype and he mentioned that he is helping a European government agency try to reduce their telecom spend by $bliions. Of course, it immediately popped into my head that he should recommend they convert their telephony to Skype!

The second thought I had was that such a suggestion would have been ridiculous five years ago. But it's not so ridiculous now. Why not? Why not use a tool that tens of millions rely on and that is roughly a 90% discount over traditional telephony.

Enterprise 2.0 means we'll be having these discussions more and more often.

regards, John

hebsgaard June 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I like your people-focused approach – we are studying the same for our Knowledge Worker Desktop. I will take a closer look later today and comment but wanted to mention that to get users to participate developing answers to all things “2.0” I have used a techie slide to guide the discussions (people asking What is that, why is that important. Here are the main ones:

Decision/Purchasing Power
• Integration-centric -> Business-centric
• Platform-centric -> Business/solution-centric (“point applications”)

• Integrated application suites -> Component architectures (XML/Web services)

• Data-centric -> Process-centric
• Organization (functional silos) -> Value chains
• Modular applications -> Community / Process applications (web 2.0, EP 2.0)

Projects/System Implementation
• Large projects (”revolution”) -> Stepwise business transformation
• ”Back-office”-driven -> Customer/employee-driven (“outside in”)
• Business function-centric -> Communities-centric (key: value chain roles)

We are implementing a large case management system where your groupings are very relevant – thanks// Poul Hebsgaard

grlloyd June 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I really like your pattern language line of analysis and specific examples! Introducing the pattern examples you say:

“[runaway successful products]… are trying to tell us something about how we want to use technology in our lives and in our work, and if we enterprise technologists listen carefully we’ll hear what that something is.”

I believe that learning how to listen and respond takes a combination of skills that are extremely important but not easy to describe in classic IT terms.

The term “Software Architecture” tends to be used to describe how software systems are constructed – and “Software Architect” describes a person with skills that focus on technology, economics, compatibility and hard rather than soft requirements.

In an Apr 9, 2009 blog post ( Andrew Gent did a great job responding to the question: “… whether we need to define social architectures, and if so should we do it?”

He considers whether the term is “meaningful; new or unlabeled (and therefore difficult to discuss without some shared terminology; not completely ambiguous”. His definition:

“Social architecture is the conscious design of an environment that encourages certain social behavior leading towards some goal or set of goals.”

After a thoughtful analysis Andrew concludes that the term is meaningful and useful. He says:

“There is an ongoing debate within the Enterprise 2.0 community that E2.0 is not just social software inside the firewall. It is a change of culture. Well, that change of culture cannot occur without establishing the appropriate environment to foster it, including a coordinated set of capabilities, recommendations, influences, and incentives. The design of such an environment is social architecture.”

This is not “workflow” or the world of software applications that your pattern table characterizes under 1.0. It explicitly refers to a set of skills, values, and design principles – analogous to those of architects of physical spaces and buildings – that mediate between human needs and the artifacts of technology – physical or software.

I think this a very useful way to consider how could learn to listen carefully and respond to “what that something is”.

Using “Social Architecture” to talk about work in the enterprise and life in the world also lines up with Don Norman's recent 'Signifiers not affordances'( on how to talk about characteristics of places and systems that help make people aware of the social signifiers that people rely on to feel aware and comfortable in a social world – in Web or physical space.

I riffed on the parallels between the architecture of physical spaces and the architecture of social spaces in 'Explaining Twitter – One of Three Places for People' (

bjoernklose June 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Great post.

I'd add these:

a Vendor's quality of service and public image can be jeopardized heavily with each individual interaction (every frontend [website,employee,service,api] is a brand ambassador)
a Vendor's QoS and image are the product of longstanding trust and publicity campaigns

Work is thing you do
Work is a place you go to

you listen and respond, might mediate an interaction
you're in control, on your terms

your customer is choosing YOU (the individual)
your company tries to choose the perfect customer

people pay with their attention (time/click)
people pay money

Bjoern Klose

Dave Kinkead June 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Interesting post Andrew, especially the analogy of architecture ‘usability’. I recall being amazed when I was first exposed to ideas that building and urban design can have an impact on social issues like crime and health. But on to IT….

At the risk of oversimplifying your analysis, it seems that your argument of 2.0 replacing 1.0 is reminiscent of the Mac vs Windows debate – that ‘Enterprise 2.0 just works’. While the business or process outputs of both architectures might the same, the value of Enterprise 2.0 lies in the increases in productivity, innovation and enjoyment it enables.

The second argument of 2.0 as an alternative to 1.0 seems more about the scope of information integration. Enterprise 2.0 value comes from connecting all the dots (or more specifically, connecting the meaning of all the dots). Again, the value of Enterprise 2.0 is enabling improved outcomes.

As long as the value of Enterprise 2.0 remains ‘soft’ or difficult to quantify, I think there will be limited up take of it in the absence of tech orientated managers. I think the single biggest reason that Enterprise 2.0 lags Web 2.0 is that most businesses and managers won’t embrace it until it forms an entry in their P&L or is part of their KPI.

heisss June 11, 2009 at 8:40 am

Separting the
* business stream (100% must be read and in most cases answered – typically the mailbox – frequency typically measured in Mail per hour) and the
* knowledge stream (will only be read if the subject/teaser looks interesting and if you have time – typically a microblogging tool – frequency typically measured in tweets per minute)

even if both communication streams will be most probably be integrated into the same tool in the future (e.g. Google wave).

All dynamic information ends up in the mailbox: one communication stream with a non separable blend of business communication and knowledge communication.

Best regards,
Michael Heiss

James Dellow June 11, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Andrew – There are some good ideas here, but overall I’m not convinced by all of the patterns you’ve described in terms of the distinction between 2.0 and 1.0. I think many of the pre-social computing environment (e.g. groupware systems) would end up being described as Enterprise 2.0 based on these lists, however I think we all agree there is something more to the new generation of social computing and Web 2.0 inspired solutions, right? I would also challenge some of the semantics used – for example, you say “Work is accomplished via the browser”, but I use Twitter almost exclusively through a RIA running on my desktop and other social computing tools are providing the similar non-browser interfaces, e.g. Yammer, Social Text. I think you need to drill down on the root patterns that are different, rather than say browser vs desktop. That’s actually why I think your SLATES pattern is so useful as it explains why a Wiki can be employed as both a social computing platform, but also equally end up being used as a Web CMS.

David June 12, 2009 at 1:20 pm

A pattern where 2.0 can replace 1.0 is the evolution where the user is the developer/communications pro/designer. As the learning curve of mashups, publishing, and even developing new applications flattens out, the need to have “an IT guy” assigned to your project diminishes.

Terry.Cho June 22, 2009 at 4:50 am

I enjoyed your articles.
Concept of enterprise2.0 is really great. But always problem is money.
If a company try to build up their E2.0 system. It needs a money. C Level manager always has a concern about ROI. I think this is big problem to convince him to use E2.0.

In addition WEB 2.0 culture in the world is different based on location. I’m living in Korea. Google,Facebook, Youtube,Twitter these kinds of WEB 2.0 site is not popular. Because Local service provider is very strong. In Korea we have very excellent internet infra. So user always wants excellent User interface. (Many pictures and flashes. etc.) I think internet culture of location is very important to applying E2.0 into Enterprise

Can i know your opinion?

Yip Ly June 22, 2009 at 12:07 pm

1.0 requires users to duplicate data inputs in form based applications
2.0 reduces users data inputs in Web 2.0 style applications


1.0 applications are hosted on-premise
2.0 applications are hosted in the cloud


1.0 search is based on document relevancy
2.0 search is based on social networks


1.0 applications are built with organization & hierarchical structure
2.0 applications are built with enterprise social network structure


Yip Ly

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Those that have previously hidden in the shadows of the corporation but really have nothing to offer. Why now? Because Enterprise 2.0 is inclusive & collaborative. Those that have little to offer will stand out more then ever before. Although he used it in a different context, I like Don Tapscott’s quotation from The Naked Corporation…
“If you have to be naked, you had better be buff.”

Barry J P'Gorman July 7, 2009 at 2:40 am

I would describe Enterprise 2.0 as ‘think global/ webwide’ whereas enterprise 1.0 was ‘think within the enterprise’. Enterprise 2.0 tools/ experiences are designed to avail of the cloud, the web, the browser, social communities. Enterprise 2.0 may be about deploying web 2.0 tools within the enterprise but the real point is opening up the enterprise – at least to encourage all people within the enterprise to leverage their networks which stretch way beyond the enterprise – for the benefit of the enterprise (and therefore themselves).

pixbook July 31, 2009 at 3:52 am

“There is an ongoing debate within the Enterprise 2.0 community that E2.0 is not just social software inside the firewall. It is a change of culture. Well, that change of culture cannot occur without establishing the appropriate environment to foster it, including a coordinated set of capabilities, recommendations, influences, and incentives. The design of such an environment is social architecture.”

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slmader August 15, 2009 at 12:34 am

Interesting, but frankly, these are such broad strokes that they're not really useful when trying to do something specific, like catalyze adoption of a wiki. Andrew, you need to look at Wikipatterns (…) to see a set of specific patterns that focus first on adoption, which then leads to the broader cultural shift you speak of.

Barry O'Gorman September 22, 2009 at 4:34 am

Just reread the post. I often find myself meeting executives who are reluctatn to 'deploy' E2.0 type approaches. Then I ask them 'where are you going to find new employees who do not use web 2.0 type solutions on a daily basis in running their lives?' You are right in your assetions re where E2.0 should replace E1.0. And in there your reference applications being in the cloud – this is a sine qua non.

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Interesting Post. But is this a “Pattern Language”?

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mailboxes January 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Enterprise 2.0 is the present and the future. I also beleive that web2.0 is cultural.
Different parts of the world find web2.0 diffferent then we do here in the U.S.

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Frederic Simonet August 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

1. Bottom-up content vs. top-down content
2. Personal Computer vs.World Wide Computer
3. Software as a Service vs. Software as a Product
4. Corporate Architecture vs. World Wide Architecture

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5 Laptop vs. i phone :)

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Enterprise 2.0 sounds interesting and something I have wanted to get into for quite some time now.

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I’m just hooked on this blog! It’s very informative but still needs to “Google” some of the things. I’m fairly new to corporate things….:)

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Awesome Post…..Really help me know the difference. E2 has made our life easy but lazy as well.

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