Web 2.0 Pitfall #1: The “Solutions-Centric” Approach to Social Venues

As a line executive and management consultant, I’ve had the benefit of being involved with and leading projects dedicated to maximizing the value of people using (information) technology. One of the most consistent pitfalls I’ve seen over the years while innovating with technology is that technology enthusiasts fall in love with/are curious about a technology, and they want to play with it, so they argue about which technology to choose (this especially happens with technologies).

Web 2.0 is no different in this regard, and you might find yourself party to a struggle that sounds like, “We need a blog.” “No, we need a wiki!” “Blog!!” “Wiki!!!”(repeat as desired ,^). It might also take the form of vendor religious wars: enterprise bolt-on vendor (SharePoint, Connections) vs. pureplay (Small World Labs, Neighborhood America). Here we will discuss some of the key symptoms and how you can break the logjam when you find yourself in one of these predicaments.

Value from Technology

Web 2.0, like its predecessor, offers functionality that enables people to do things differently, but the business value comes when people are able to use the technology in such a way that a virtuous cycle develops:

  • People use the technology and find unique value; it enables them to do something they couldn’t before, or they can do something in a different way that is an order of magnitude better
  • People experience the technology positively, which drives them to use it more
  • As they use it more, that creates more value, which can increase investments in the technology

Web 2.0’s key distinguishing characteristic is P2P (peer2peer, person-to-person) communication, so this is even more true. Generalizing greatly, Web 1.0 was about connecting people with information or functionality. Web 2.0 is about connecting people with other people.

The technology creates no value; it is a cost. People using it creates the value.

Approaching Web 2.0 Projects

In 2008, most companies are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 as a concept (especially technology companies that are focused on connecting people with information), so they often fall into the technology trap. People can be hard to deal with if you have a very logical mind and take solace in code. People are complex, and complexity increases the more rich and numerous the interactions you are trying to facilitate with Web 2.0. Here are a few tips for dealing with Web 2.0 “solution wars”:

  • Focus on “stakeholders” (i.e. customers, stockholders, employees, partners, media, bloggers, videographers…). Define their characteristics as best you can—and what best motivates them given the context of the engagement. This pre-work serves as a hypothesis. Take it to market, put it out there in a couple of venues, engage people, and see what comes back.
  • Choose people on the engagement team who are most tolerant of ambiguity to lead this part of the engagement. The techies will be looking over their shoulders and learning by osmosis; they’re really good at this.
  • Test the bounds of the business goals with people that have various perspectives. Test the concepts behind the business case by asking stakeholders.
  • Use this iterative process to develop “requirements.” It is a truism in Web 2.0 that “the conversation is the content.” This applies in spades to this engagement, but in a surprising way: by engaging your stakeholders early, you can get them to buy in, which in itself begins the virtuous cycle. Their ability to help you becomes the conversation of your creation, launch, growth and scaling of the venue.
  • Another unsettling realization for many “solution-focused” technologists is that the venue you are developing exists within an ecosystem that morphs very quickly. You need to build with significant peripheral vision because people are discussing the issues your planned venue addresses, and they’re collaborating all over the place. Keeping their attention is difficult; you need to have the functions that align with what they are trying to do—and what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • But have faith in emergent organization: if you inspire stakeholders, they will tolerate imperfection if the level of engagement is high. Getting it perfect is old school—”good enough” is the new mantra. You can’t let the technology get in the way of collaboration. Passion trumps technology feature perfection.
  • Recognize that Web 2.0, due to the complexity of many-to-many interactions, often follows an emergent organization, which makes logically minded people uncomfortable. On the positive side, most of the technologies are far more malleable that anything you’ve used before, so it’s okay.
  • If you are the engagement manager, it can be useful to let the team argue about the technology because it can be an effective way for them to educate themselves. If you keep this in mind, keep your hand on the tiller and encourage them to argue productively, you can lead them to educate each other.

Parting Shots

  • Small World Labs, an enterprise 2.0 vendor that white labels social networks, has built more than 140 social networks for companies. They’ve developed a nice list of do’s and don’ts. The first don’t (in all caps, no less): FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY FIRST.
  • When I presented at the Social Networking Conference in July, I had the privilege of meeting one of IBM’s social media evangelists, Rawn Shah. His presentation addressed people-technology front on, and his icons and illustrations are funny and effective.

1 comment to Web 2.0 Pitfall #1: The “Solutions-Centric” Approach to Social Venues

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.