Do You Exist?

A lot of my time last week was spent preparing to moderate a CIO roundtable discussion that will have taken place by the time you read this. Part of that effort involved familiarizing myself with the participants’ backgrounds so I could engage them effectively during pre-roundtable phone interviews.

Now, understand that these are 14 senior IT executives with enough clout to be invited to a plush resort for the weekend event by the sponsor, a large software company. So, given their high profiles, it’s no surprise that I was able to gain an extraordinary amount of information about them simply by Googling their names. But there were a few exceptions. And in one case, I found nothing at all.

A compelling story in this week’s issue, "How to 'Get Found' on the Web," opens with an intriguing question: If someone searches for you on the Web and comes up empty-handed, do you exist?

It’s easy to dismiss the question as the byproduct of relentless Web 2.0 hoopla. And I certainly wouldn’t argue that the hoopla doesn’t abound. In fact, I got a kick out of one reader’s comments on the recent story "Web 2.0: A new dot-com bubble in the making?"

“Wow, the ‘community sites’ idea where people of common interests can network sounds like neat, new stuff!” the reader wrote. “Way to go, Web ‘two dot oh.’ Oh, wait. I think that has been done before. Can anyone say B-B-S?”

Indeed, there’s hardly anything new about online community. More than a decade ago, my daughter met a beau in a CompuServe forum. They lived on opposite sites of the planet: She was finishing up high school in Hong Kong, and he was an intern in a hospital in New York. When that sort of thing happens today, we hail the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

But there’s an enormous difference. Back then, online community was a resource. Now, it’s a requisite.

You can no longer expect your professional standing to progress if you don’t have an easily accessible, broadly informative presence on the Web. And while that virtual existence is essential in itself, it’s not enough. You have to contribute something, and that’s what Web 2.0 is all about.

Most of the IT executives whose backgrounds I researched for that roundtable popped up in a context that demonstrates their commitment to sharing information with their peers. At least one has a blog; others are listed as speakers at various conferences; some appear in webcasts; some have published articles; most are quoted extensively in the press. Beyond that, they’re found on community sites like LinkedIn, which isindicative of the value they place on gaining assistance from their peers as well.

It’s clear, moreover, that IT professionals are going to have to be very comfortable with Web-based collaborative technologies, because these tools’ charge into the enterprise is accelerating. In a recent Forrester Research study, 106 of 119 CIOs from companies with more than 500 employees said they are using at least one Web 2.0 technology from a list that includes blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking and content tagging. According to the study’s author, the CIOs adopted each technology “because it was helping them with some business process they were struggling with.”

So, hoopla or not, Web “two dot oh” is as permanent a fixture as any you’re likely to deal with. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my daughter and the good doctor subsequently married. I got two grandchildren out of the collaboration.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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