Web 2.0: Wikis, blogs, RSS aim for the workplace

Business managers like promise of collaboration

As businesses worldwide debate the pros and cons of using wikis, tagging, Web mashups, syndicated feeds and blogs, the Web 2.0 Expo opened Sunday in San Francisco with a gaggle of vendors betting these Internet tools belong in the workplace.

The promise of simplified and more effective collaboration among employees, partners and clients has caught the attention of business managers. Still, although a hit among consumers, these Web 2.0 products must meet special requirements for business use in areas like availability, performance, scalability and security.

"Some aspects of Web 2.0 are viewed as attractive by businesses. It's just a case of getting over the hurdles," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "Clearly, the market is moving in this direction, but many things prevent it from moving very quickly."

Vendors backing Web 2.0 in the workplace say new tools, like wikis, can significantly improve how employees collaborate on projects. They also point out that blogs can be effective marketing tools if they are used wisely, while syndicated feeds can improve communications that aren't efficiently handled by e-mail.

Web 2.0 proponents have also embraced the concept of hosted business applications, saying they also encourage sharing and collaboration among employees while reducing the complexity of software management and hardware expenses.

Yet each cheerleading argument also has a flip side. Companies that used hosted applications run a risk that their data might be compromised or that the applications may be unavailable. They also give up control over whether and when to upgrade those applications.

Critics also warn that companies must evaluate how and whether these new tools will integrate with their existing infrastructure and what level of support the vendors, many of them start-ups, can offer.

Just last month, Google Apps, Google Inc.'s hosted communication and collaboration suite for businesses, suffered three major outages in its Gmail service. Some affected customers complained that Google failed on its pledge of 99.9% uptime for the suite's fee-based edition.

"There has been more reluctance to adopt Internet-based tools by large companies, but less resistance among SMBs," said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.

Aggravated with Microsoft Corp.'s Word, Shelli Kesler, senior research scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, did a Web search for an alternative word processor and found AdventNet Inc.'s free Zoho Writer. Three months later, Zoho Writer is her primary word processor, because it's a hosted application that she can use whenever she is online.

"I don't have to worry about remembering to send what I've done or worry about which draft is the most current. It's very convenient to work on things in multiple locations," said Kesler, who has gotten some colleagues to adopt the product as well.

On a larger scale, Mike Suding introduced eTouch Systems Corp.'s SamePage enterprise wiki to Citrix Systems Inc.'s online division, where he is IT director. The tool has improved collaboration in the engineering and sales departments, while requiring minimal IT intervention, he said.

"I can make [a user] an admin of a certain space or project, and they can add their own members and invite their own people to participate and post their own texts or graphics or attachments," Suding said. Accomplishing similar goals with the existing intranet and e-mail and collaboration platform would be more complicated, he said. The intranet lacks search and content syndication capabilities, while e-mail collaboration is less than ideal.

"E-mail comes and goes, and we wanted a place to collect and build," Suding said. "Web 2.0 is about employee collaboration and empowerment and self-service. That's what we're achieving with the wiki."

AdventNet's Zoho division, which has a suite of hosted productivity applications to which Zoho Writer belongs, and eTouch Systems Corp. are two of the vendors exhibiting at the event, along with Google, Adobe Systems Inc., eBay Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Fast Search & Transfer ASA, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Keynote speakers include Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos and Google's CEO Eric Schmidt. Announcements expected include the following:   

  • Intel Corp. will announce the availability of SuiteTwo, a suite of collaboration applications unveiled in November at Web 2.0 Expo's sister event Web 2.0 Summit. Intel's partners for SuiteTwo include SocialText Inc., NewsGator Technologies Inc., SimpleFeed Inc., Six Apart Ltd. and SpikeSource Inc.   
  • Nokia Corp. will unveil technologies to link Internet content and Web services with mobile devices using the S60 smart phone operating system. The company will also demonstrate how content and developers can create material and applications for Nokia devices.   
  • Tellme Networks Inc., which Microsoft announced it would buy last month, will announce new mobile search products that let people query search engines with their voice.

Web 2.0 Expo, at San Francisco's Moscone Center, ends Wednesday.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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