Web 2.0 Goes Corporate

Tools like wikis and podcasts can provide significant advantages to a business. But CIOs have been slow to embrace these lightweight Web technologies.

For Jeff Herrmann, co-director of research at investment company Manning & Napier Advisors Inc., the impetus to invest in Web 2.0 came abruptly late last summer. That's when one of Herrmanns analysts left the company and much of his recent research vanished as well.

It wasn't stolen just lost somewhere on the former employee's hard drive, Herrmann says.

"After he left, his replacement showed me a stock he thought was interesting. I said, 'Wait a minute; we already researched that stock.'" The analyst who had left had researched the stock thoroughly and developed a strategy about when to buy it. "But do you think we could find that work? No way," Herrmann says. "It was nowhere to be found."

Jeff Herrmann

Jeff Herrmann Herrmann realized that a wiki a collaborative Web site to which everyone can contribute content might have prevented the loss.

Now, Manning & Napier analysts use wikis from Socialtext Inc. to share and store research, commentary and meeting notes. The wiki is organized by industry, such as health care, and then by theme, such as the plight of the uninsured. Content can be typed, pasted or linked into the wiki. Some e-mails or e-mail threads can also be sent directly to the wiki. And all of that unstructured content can be searched by keyword, as well as tagged for subject categories.

2.0 Tools & Terms

What are Web 2.0 applications, exactly?

Here are the main types:

Blog. Short for "Web log," a blog is a Web journal that lets users post comments or news. Often, they also let readers post feedback. Podcast. An audio or video file distributed over the Internet through RSS or another syndication feed. RSS. Really Simple Syndication is a technology that lets users subscribe to feeds that deliver wiki or blog updates or even more general information such as traffic alerts. Wiki. A collective Web page that allows users to post or link content without having to use HTML.

Sue Hildreth

"We like it because it's a peer review system, not a hierarchical system. We work in teams, each covering a sector, so this makes it easier to collaborate," says Herrmann. "We also wanted to do a better job of documenting and saving things that don't get saved, as part of our legal obligations."

Herrmann is among the growing wave of executives to recognize the business value of Web 2.0 tools. Innovations such as wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and social software are ubiquitous in the consumer market, and many people have quietly downloaded Web 2.0 tools at work to use on their projects. In a survey conducted earlier this year by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., nearly three-fourths of the 2,847 executives polled said they planned to maintain or increase their spending on Web 2.0 collaborative technologies, for use either externally to communicate with customers and partners, or internally to improve collaboration among employees.

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