Magazine article Management Today

WEB 2.0 Promise or Threat?

Magazine article Management Today

WEB 2.0 Promise or Threat?

Article excerpt

Along with the chance to get closer to the customer, the user-generated internet carries real risks: from hackers, complainers and even disaffected staff. Mark Vernon reports.

You have heard of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written by its users. It aims to bring the sum total of human knowledge to everyone on the planet in their native language. Don't sneer: Bill Gates wanted to put a PC into every home and people don't laugh at that idea any more.

Many know about MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Second Life, YouTube and others - the social-networking, content-sharing websites. Facebook is the current favourite, growing faster than Jack's beanstalk. And despite recent hiccups - six firms, including Virgin, Halifax and the AA, withdrew their ads after they appeared on a page connected with the BNP - it is generating more gold than the ogre Jack found at the top could ever have dreamed of.

But what of the blogger in Hawaii who posted a picture of a cat with the caption 'I can has cheezburger'? (sic). Within six months - six months! - he was receiving half a million hits a day and was able to charge so much for ads that he quit his job.

Or the websites that, by posting news and video from readers, have turned the commercial bedrock of traditional publishing and broadcasting - namely, advertising - into sand? Or the online chatrooms and notice boards on which customers express their opinion of goods and services? In a few short lines, they can turn the millions spent on marketing into dust and ashes. Now executives truly understand the power of word-of-mouth advertising.

This is all part of the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Web 1.0 was the internet dream that turned into a nightmare when the dot.com bubble burst. Web 2.0 is the dream recurring, only this time it has the advantage of cheap, high-speed internet access and users who have seized control of content. Few of them know their 'html' from their 'php', just two of the languages used to programme websites today. And yet millions are able to publish words, pictures and videos every minute of the day.

The cybergeeks are setting the pace again. And this time they mean business. Nevertheless, serious questions hang over Web 2.0. What of the security threats? What about its quality? What of its usefulness to business? And most important of all, can it be used to make money?

There can be no doubt that Web 2.0 has entered the workplace: 71% of office workers aged 18 to 29 access such websites at least 'a few times a week', according to research from YouGov and Clearswift. Nearly two out of five such employees access social networking sites several times a day.

There's every indication that many companies want to use Web 2.0 for their own purposes. Research from Coleman Parkes and Citrix suggests that despite a lack of corporate understanding of the concept, there's a growing commitment to Web 2.0. Nearly 40% of those who are aware of the technology but have yet to run it expect to implement it within the next two years. In addition, 52% of companies predict that half of all applications will be Web 2.0-based within five years.

'As much as anything, it's a generation thing,' says Klaus Oestermann, group vice-president at Citrix. 'Companies must adapt to suit a new breed of internal and external customer that has grown up with Web 2.0.'

One of the most common applications is Web 2.0 technology that allows customers to interact more directly with businesses. Blogs and bulletin boards cost little to set up, and even if the link between the traffic on such sites and any new revenue generated is as yet unclear, the content provides valuable insights.

Such revelations can prove uncomfortable, though. When Dell launched its blog in July 2006, nearly half the comments left on it were negative. On the other hand, that made it easier for the firm to address issues head-on. 'There are no shortcuts,' explains Lionel Menchaca, digital media manager at Dell. …

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