Web 2.0 helps us transcend the tyranny of the email inbox


The Sydney Morning Herald has a very interesting full-page article today by Brad Howarth titled It’s web take 2.0, which delves into some of the business applications of Web 2.0. It covers a broad range of technologies and companies, including social search engine Swicki, scalable virtual world Outback Online, community space Tangler, and Web 2.0 initiatives from Kimberly-Clark and World Wildlife Fund. The article links to this blog among a few other Web 2.0 references, and quotes me on the enterprise applications of Web 2.0:

According to social technologies researcher Ross Dawson, some information-intensive organisations, including law firms and banks, are the most active in investigating the benefits of web 2.0 technology, as an extension of ongoing knowledge management developments.

“Web 2.0 in the enterprise is about enabling people to better find information and work with it,” Mr Dawson says. “There are some sweet spots, which are very natural applications for blogs and wikis where it makes a lot of sense. And these are projects, competitive intelligence, and many other things where you are trying to get broad information and input on a specific topic.”

In the case of competitive intelligence, for instance, a wiki can be set up to allow employees to input information they may have learnt about their organisation’s competitors, and rely on their colleagues to collaborate or correct their entries. The same can be true of corporate blogs.

“There’s a lot of cynicism around whether it is worth doing or not, but done well, in the right sort of organisation, it is a way to get greater visibility and awareness of capabilities across the organisation.”

Mr Dawson also believes that blogs and wikis can become an alternative to email.

“Email as a communication platform is experiencing breakdown because people have too many emails. If you can start to shift activity outside of email, that’s enormously valuable and more effective and more productive.”

Many years ago I was already referring to “communication breakdown” in the corporate use of email (at the time about financial markets participants, whose email inboxes overflowed before anyone else’s…). The next phase of evolution of corporate communication and work processes must be about moving beyond email as a tool. People are familiar with it, and it provides a single portal to communication, but it is a massively ineffective tool for many business communication needs. Web 2.0 tools offer a ready-made, easy to use alternative for some business applications. Most projects, for example, would function far better using blogs or wikis instead of email for communication. There are certainly other approaches to transcending the email inbox as our primary communication tool. However Web 2.0 tools are already at hand to vastly improve corporate communication, if we choose to use them.

I’ve written at length before about these issues, including some of the investment banks’ initiatives and successes in moving beyond email, initiatives from IBM, blogging shifting into Enterprise 2.0, and so on.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be releasing a Web 2.0 framework which will put into context both the consumer web and enterprise applications.