Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A business case for web 2.0?

So, here I am in Paris. Yesterday evening we had a frightfully trendy media reception at the Museum of Architecture, all champagne fountains and soft dance music in the background. The walls were white and the floors, hot pink. It was all very minimalist and interesting.

Today I have got my story, and it's quite an interesting one; Alcatel-Lucent has fallen on hard times since its merger, but it seems that things are now turning around, which is positive to hear and good news for all concerned.

However, what's caught my attention is how all the company men are busy talking about how very important Web 2.0 is going to be to the enterprise, which I can see on some levels, but overall is something that I've yet to make my mind up on.

So, okay, I can see the value of Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Twitter and all, and I think they probably have some value to enterprises as a means of employing millennials, people coming up through education and university now who are shortly going to be demanding these capabilities in their workplace. However, there's a difference between letting your shiny new millennial employee check his Facebook pokes during his lunch hour, and less an actual case for using it as a business tool.

In all honesty, I have yet to see convincing case for Facebook as business tool, or see it do anything that could be even remotely useful to me as a business. If it's all about swapping media and documents easily, then there are far better, and infinitely more secure products on the market today that will do it, which I think is pretty obvious. Same goes for Flickr, Youtube, and so on. These are all consumer focused applications.

But then there are some IT and comms firms, Cisco prominent among them, that have beefed up their research and development to launch in-house Web 2.0 apps. One company I know of runs a kind of internal Second Life for its business partners to go check each other out on, and I think this is where the future lies.

So I'm worried that these communications companies are rushing full tilt at what may well turn out to be a windmill. Already we're starting to see reports that Facebook, like Friends Reunited before it, has jumped the shark, with declining pageviews and fewer new recruits. Facebook's value to the consumer is already being challenged by several factors, of which I think the most important are one, it's no longer a student clique so there's no intrinsic cool value to it, and two, the applications are really, really annoying and I hate them, especially the zombie/vampire/ninja pyramid memes.

Unless Mark Zuckerberg can come up with something new and impressive quickly, I fear that Facebook will just become something that you log into once a week to check for new photos of yourself. This is already how I use it. Also, I interact with maybe 10 or 20 out of over 100 friends, and know others in that situation. It has put me in touch with people I was at school with fifteen or twenty years ago, and guess what, none of us have anything in common anymore, and so we're just photos on each other's friends list. We certainly aren't friends.

I fear Alcatel-Lucent et al are running to catch a bus that is pulling out, but others are telling me differently. One of the PRs here says his colleagues are already using Facebook to keep in touch with clients, while others have considered it as a means of distributing press releases. I've not received a press release over Facebook, and I am not sure I would want to, but I suppose it is a case of whatever floats your particular boat. It bring me right back to not seeing any real business benefit, or if you'd rather, no business benefit that isn't also a benefit of just picking up the telephone every now and then.

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