Even With Web 2.0, Businesses Are Stuck at Enterprise 1.5

By David Weinberger

As you’ve probably heard, the Web progressed to version 2.0 a couple of years ago. It’s about time, too, especially since for many of us, our maintenance contracts with the Web were about to run out, and we didn’t want to have to pay for the upgrade to the new version. Fortunately, the new release of the Web went smoothly. We downloaded the new software, followed the upgrade instructions (did you remember to download the new drivers first?), and were up and running with our brand new Web version within days.

The only problem is that, while the Web may have progressed to 2.0, businesses are stuck at 1.5, at best. As they try to grab hold of the bubble, businesses are finding they’re weighted down. Not by extraneous baggage they could jettison, but by core principles of organization and operation.

Take an easy part of Web 2.0: User participation via blogging. For now, we’ll ignore that the Web has been about user participation from its very beginning. There’s no question that blogging has made it easier than ever for people to join the global conversation. There’s obviously no technical reason why a corporation couldn’t start up its own blogs, and many have. But so often corporate blogs are the worst sort of marketing: marketing pretending that it isn’t marketing.

If you wanted to build an environment in which blogging would be tempted to betray its values, you’d build a modern corporation. Marketing has trained companies to speak in safe platitudes. Legal has warned companies not to let anyone speak without permission. Executives have let themselves believe that they got where they are because they’re oh so fascinating. It’s a miracle there are any good corporate blogs at all.

Or take mashups, the poster children of Web 2.0. Sure, companies may use other people’s data to enhance their own, and if a page isn’t busily rebuilding itself through the magic of AJAX, then it definitely hasn’t drunk the Web 2.0 juice. The real question is whether a company will let others use its data. We’ve told companies for a generation now that information is their second most important asset. But, in the 2.0 world, information is free to roam, mate, and produce unexpected offspring. Most companies aren’t ready to go that far, so they point to how they’ve mashed up their store locations with Google Maps, and declare Web 2.0 victory.

It’s not easy. I know a company that is about to do some deals to aggregate a particular class of information. I’m not allowed to give away details, so let’s pretend it’s information about auto repairs. (It’s not.) There are several coalitions proposing standards in this area, all aiming at openness. This company doesn’t want to play. They have an opportunity to become the dominate source for auto repair info, and they don’t want to give up their control over the standard they may be in a position to establish as the de facto winner.

I think it’s short-sighted of them for good business reasons. Because an open standard would encourage innovation and competition, the market will eventually (probably) push for it and thus push away from this company’s proprietary standard. I’ve lost this argument, though, because the company looks at the shorter-term future and sees lots of advantages. Immediate gain in the 1.5 world weighs quite heavily against long-term benefit in the 2.0 world.

The fact that companies are stalled at Enterprise 1.5 isn’t due to a simple failing, as if they’re just not as smart as the Web 2.0 hackers. Web 2.0 sharpens the challenge Web 1.0 posed to our traditional ways of doing business. The change is deep and real. We should expect business to lag, and some businesses to be left behind entirely.

Source: Information week

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