Welcome to the Wide World of Web 2.0

February 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
The Web 2.0 world can be a confusing place because of conflicting definitions. However, most agree that it includes social networking capabilities as well as the means to gather specific information in a personalized manner.
New media and information-sharing capabilities pose both technical and business process challenges.

This is the first in a series of five stories on Web 2.0 capabilities and their effects.

The Web 2.0 revolution is as much about business culture as it is about social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Second Life and LinkedIn or collaborative content sites such as Wikipedia. Faced with a growing number of employees from the Gen X or Gen Y age groups, baby boomer executives are learning to let go of traditional thinking while simultaneously trying to discover the best way to adopt new capabilities without losing all control. As a result, organizations find themselves turning not only to technology providers but also to firms that specialize in integration.

Definitions of the latest Internet capabilities may vary, but in general most agree that Web 2.0 is a combination of the ability to choose content, share content and pull information from a variety of sources into one customized location. Social networking media that allow anyone and everyone to create a Web page easily and to publicize personal interests also are considered part of Web 2.0.

Government agencies and companies that hope to survive by serving their customers in the best way possible no longer can ignore the Web 2.0 revolution. Some call it the participatory Web, but no matter the name or definition, technology is the conduit through which users will take advantage of new opportunities, and organizations are designing strategies for its use. More important, experts believe that when corporate executives do not integrate these new technologies into their organizations, many employees find their own ways to do so—possibly opening up systems to security breaches. At the extreme, the best and the brightest personnel may simply walk out the door to find an organization that better feeds their hunger for up-to-date applications of the latest technologies.

On the technical-enabling side, company officials are finding out that they must thoroughly understand the culture of Web 2.0 users to ensure that their products meet expectations. Citrix Systems Incorporated, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for example, specializes in application delivery infrastructure that increases the speed at which applications are delivered more efficiently and at a lower cost. The company currently has more than 200,000 customers worldwide, including 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Every time Web surfers access Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay and YouTube for example, they are going through Citrix infrastructure.

Wes Wasson, chief strategy officer, Citrix Systems, says that the simplest reason his company has moved into the Web 2.0 arena is that business today is about enabling the dialogue between application and user. “Our focus is how we can stay two steps ahead of the customers that we serve to ensure that these application trends like Web 2.0 don’t come and smack them upside the head and completely change the environment for them so they can no longer survive,” he states.

Among the company’s many products, two stand out as Web 2.0 enablers. The first, Citrix Presentation Server, is designed to deliver Windows applications; the second, Citrix NetScaler, delivers Web-based applications. The goal of both products is to make applications fast and secure, which helps information technology departments and organizations stay abreast of trends.

The products were developed to address the new problems that creep up when traditional Web-based applications move into the Web 2.0 world, Wasson explains. These applications include Asynchronous Java XML, or AJAX, which allows Internet users to enjoy interactive features found on many Web sites. “AJAX triggers a bunch of stuff that happens in your browser. So there is an initial connection between your browser and the Web site, and then all that highly interactive stuff is actually processing on your browser and using your PC’s processing power instead of the server’s power. That creates potential security problems; it creates potential performance problems,” he says.

The company has been building more Hypertext Markup Language-based processing capabilities to address the AJAX environment’s security and performance challenges. For example, putting NetScaler in front of a standard Web application would make the application five to 10 times faster and reduce the data center Web server’s load by approximately 30 percent to 40 percent.

These improvements are particularly important in the Web 2.0 environment, Wasson notes. “As a Web site developer, I am not a security expert. I have no clue as to how this is going to affect performance. I’m just designing something that looks really cool, and it works great on my laptop as I designed it. When I put it out there in the world, I could very easily be building things with that application that used to take maybe five connections between the server and a browser and suddenly explode them into 20,000 because of the way I designed it. I may also find that it suddenly exposes a bunch of security risks, allowing a hacker to come into a server intra-actively—and it’s all happening on your browser,” Wasson explains.

Although most organizations’ information technology departments attempt to provide employees with the most useful applications, the Web 2.0 environment oftentimes becomes an open avenue for personnel not only to learn about new products but also to immediately download them. At this point, the information technology department is cut out of the conversation, he warns. Citrix’ Presentation Server enables systems administrators to offer employees a multitude of applications, thereby circumventing this potentially dangerous practice.

“The IT department can go out and collect any of these applications, and most of them are very legitimate. They can take all of your Google applications, everything else like that, put them in a single application store, have one copy of each and basically publish them to all of their users. Now, if I’m a user in that environment, I go to my Start menu and see all these cool Web 2.0 applications right there. I click on them; they are streamed like a video/audio file to my desktop; they run on my desktop; and they run in a protected virtualization environment, so they can’t interact or interfere with anything else. There’s no security problem. There’s no compatibility problem. And by the way, IT is now in control, and everybody’s using the right version and they know who’s using it. It’s easier for the end user because all those compatibility and other problems that they had when they downloaded it themselves go away,” he states.

 
 
Wes Wasson, chief strategy officer, Citrix Systems Incorporated, engaged his avatar double from Second Life to open his presentation at the company’s iForum conference last fall. He wanted his audience to understand that Web 2.0 technologies are here to stay, and everyone—from corporate president to new hire—must figure out how to best incorporate it into their organization. 
Citrix Systems plans to continue its drive toward enabling users—and their information technology departments—to take advantage of the Web 2.0 world. One of the newest features of Presentation Server and NetScaler is EasyCall. The capability enables users to hotlink any telephone number that appears in any application on their desktop. Placing the cursor on a telephone number brings up a “dialer”; clicking on the number initiates the call on the user’s telephone.

Wasson predicts the market will see much more capability integration. Companies will be examining how to merge instant messaging, voice and data onto a single platform, and they will be using social networking capabilities to exploit it, he says.

But technology developers are not the only segments that believe the future of Web 2.0 revolves around a great deal of integration. For Booz Allen Hamilton Incorporated, McLean Virginia, the focus is not as much on integrating technologies and applications as it is on integrating technologies and people. New social networking capabilities are bringing about a cultural revolution as the work force experiences a significant sea change.

According to Daniel Gasparro, a senior director at Booz Allen Hamilton, great deal of institutional knowledge will be lost as baby boomers leave the work force over the next several years. Many companies are looking to Web 2.0 capabilities to keep tacit knowledge in the organization before it walks out of the door. Tools such as wikis and blogs are one way to capture that intellectual capital so that it can be used for training new staff, for example.

In addition, these technologies enable employees to tap into information located outside of their own departments. For example, when individuals want to access expertise to serve a client, they can post a question in a blog to determine who is the expert in that area or who has the most relevant experience. At that point, with Web 2.0 collaborative capabilities, the process of locating knowledge is much quicker than current procedures, Gasparro maintains.

Booz Allen Hamilton also has received many inquiries about social bookmarking, which is a way to track user-rated information inside an organization. Traditionally, the number of hits rather than relevance determines links’ rankings. “This type of search doesn’t have what I would call real user feedback. The social bookmarking tools are a way by which people can comment, and they provide a ranking of information to others about why the information is useful and why they hold [it] in their portfolio of knowledge,” Gasparro says.

To help organizations better understand Web 2.0 technologies, Booz Allen Hamilton begins by determining strategic goals. “We pick it up from ‘what’s your business problem? What is it that you’re trying to solve?’” Gasparro explains. Many companies assume Web 2.0 technologies are what they need to adopt in order to meet their goals; however, that is not always the case, he emphasizes.

For example, corporate executives often believe that the best way to catalog institutional knowledge is by creating an internal wiki system. This choice is based primarily on hearing the term and interpreting it as a collection of data that goes through traditional channels for review and approval. When Booz Allen Hamilton explains that this is not the case and that wikis are based on the free and constant flow of information, the idea is dropped because senior personnel do not want to give up control.

Another pitfall that sabotages organizations’ use of social networking technologies is that input is requested only from the information technology department. Steve Radick, associate, Booz Allen Hamilton, explains that an organization’s primary concern and goal should be to ask the people who are actually going to use the products to clarify what they hope to obtain from them. “Without this input, you implement a blogging structure that is very constricted on the intranet or behind a firewall, and because it’s so constricted, your employees are going outside of the firewall and blogging externally to get what they actually want. We’re helping our clients to look back at the whole life cycle of Web 2.0 and understand that a blog isn’t Web 2.0. What you get out of a blog and what the blog enables is Web 2.0,” he says.

Organizations must understand what their employees want from new capabilities and then ensure that those plans meet their expectations. For some employees, having a means to communicate with an organization’s leaders is all they require. For others, the ability to e-publish their white papers and start a dialogue about the topic with other employees is their greatest interest. Once organizations determine what personnel want from the technology and how to incorporate it into their plans, their employees are more likely to buy into the changes, which increases the likelihood of success, Gasparro maintains.

This is all part of the shifting of power from the institutions to the communities that start to form within them, Gasparro adds. Although these groups have existed in companies before, the new technologies empower them. “That’s something that the baby boomers—and I keep going back to the demographics, but I think it’s important to understand—are struggling with. They’re trying to manage tacit knowledge like they manage explicit knowledge. That tacit knowledge is extremely powerful when you bring these tools in. It is the power for a community to take and bring about real value to business, and it can only happen when we release that command-and-control viewpoint,” Gasparro says. This will change the way the work force functions for the next 50 years, he predicts.

Next Month: Web 2.0.2— New Media in the Military

Web Resources
Citrix Systems Incorporated: www.citrix.com
Booz Allen Hamilton Incorporated: www.bah.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com
MySpace: www.myspace.com
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com
Second Life: www.secondlife.com
Wikipedia: http://wikipedia.org