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WEB2.0 and its implications for organizational knowledge management

1 March 2007
Dr. Moria Levy
A finger touching a tablet

As an ordinary individual, I've recently encountered the concept of WEB 2.0 quite frequently. As someone deeply involved in knowledge management for almost a decade, I find this phenomenon particularly intriguing. Has WEB 2.0 cracked the code that we, knowledge managers, tirelessly strive to decipher daily? How is it that there is such vibrant participation from people who willingly share knowledge and contribute their experiences daily? What does Web 2.0 entail, and how does it impact us in organizational knowledge management? Should we actively support this phenomenon for mutual benefit? Is it a revolution or a passing buzz that we should not overly invest hope in?


Following my customary practice of researching new topics, I sought a comprehensive book. While no single book has all the answers, its nature inherently contains broad and detailed information. Such information sparks thoughts and lays a solid foundation for further development of thinking and learning.

Regrettably, despite considerable efforts, I couldn't find such a book. I contacted one of the Web 2.0 experts in Israel (specifically, an expert on WEB 3.0), but my efforts proved fruitless. The reason is that this is a relatively new phenomenon, with only two and a half years of development. The time required for writing and editing a book adds to the challenge, leaving the shelves empty. Disheartened, I turned to databases. Although administrative databases yielded a few articles (from knowledge management newspapers appearing as written journals), academic databases offered very little. However, when I ventured online, a pleasant surprise awaited me. The internet, as a source, was good. I substituted a book with a collection of around forty articles and qualitative pieces of information, primarily written in 2007 or late 2006. This article is based on their reading and analysis. Notably, there's a significant assertion here about the importance of the internet, serving as a substitute for classical literature.


The article comprises three main chapters: WEB 2.0 - What lies behind the concept? Enterprise 2.0 - The Web 2.0 phenomenon within organizations. KM 2.0 - How knowledge management will, or should, evolve in light of the Web 2.0 phenomenon.


[1] Dr. Alon Hasgal, Bar-Ilan University


WEB 2.0 - Unpacking the Concept:

WEB 2.0 is a phenomenon that emerged as a fusion of the maturation and progression of the Internet, coupled with the aspiration to construct something new and positively perceived after the setbacks of the burst high-tech bubble. Towards the end of 2001, there was a prevailing sentiment that some beneficial aspects of high-tech, particularly on the Internet, were being overlooked with the water being thrown out. It became evident that the surviving companies post-bubble shared specific characteristics. Grounded in these observations, the articulation of the next generation of the Internet world, termed the Web 2.0 generation, commenced. The term "WEB 2.0" was coined by Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International, a conference production company, in late 2004 when searching for a name for a series of conferences they were organizing. The market embraced the name, and the rest, as they say, is history. It's worth noting that while the term implies a shift, the entire Internet landscape is currently operating under the 2.0 paradigm. The majority is not. However, gradually and steadily, the components of the Web 2.0 concept are being integrated into more solutions and shaping the Internet's agenda.


So, What is WEB 2.0?

Reflecting on the close of 2006, O'Reilly characterizes Web 2.0 as "a business revolution in the computing industry, stemming from a shift in perspective regarding the Internet (viewing the Internet as a platform) and an understanding of the principles that lead to success in such a landscape. The key principle is: Build applications that leverage the power of the network, becoming better and more successful as more people engage with them." While this principle of people's influence and the essence of the "Internet as a platform" may seem somewhat elusive, we will delve into their explanations and other governing principles supported by examples. Before that exploration, three distinct yet remarkably accurate definitions are worth noting:

  • Singel (2005) cites Mayfield, CEO of a company specializing in wiki solutions: "WEB 1.0 was a trading business; WEB 2.0 is about people."

  • McLean (2007) provides another definition: "WEB 2.0 is a comprehensive framework that encompasses everything possible to define much more dynamic web computing."

  • Weinberger (2007) characterizes this phenomenon as the consolidation of open architecture, reducing barriers to advertising, and facilitating the sharing of ideas among people in an era of heightened computing and broadband. Interestingly, Weinberger contends that this is not a revolution (in contrast to O'Reilly's perspective) but a continual development of ideas we have known in the past.


Exploring the Principles of Web 2.0:

If so, what are the principles of Web 2.0? The principles influencing the entire Internet industry, encompassing product development, marketing, content creation, and ongoing operation, include:

  1. WEB as a Platform: Treat the WEB as a platform rather than a central application, similar to viewing a conversation as the primary focus when talking on the phone. Companies like Google, Amazon, and eBay exemplify this approach, treating the Internet as a platform for service delivery rather than trying to control it.

  2. Service Development: Develop services rather than standalone applications. This principle encourages the innovation of creating one service that can be integrated with others, fostering new added value. This concept is also known as "Innovation in Assembly."

  3. Active Participation of Users: Recognize users as active participants, adding value to content rather than just consuming it. Web 2.0 shifts the perception from content experts being solely responsible to users actively contributing. Various levels of user participation include passive, minimally active, and active users working collaboratively on the network.

  4. Automatic Service Improvement: Design services to improve automatically with increased user interaction. Examples include Google's ranking model and Amazon's user reviews. User participation creates network effects and contributes to the service's continuous enhancement.

  5. The Collective Mind: Embrace the collective mind by recognizing the long tail concept. Chris Anderson's law of the long tail emphasizes the importance of addressing the 80% of the population that constitutes the long tail, emphasizing selling a little to many. Examples such as blogs and Wikipedia showcase the power of collective knowledge.

  6. The Core – Content Database: Centralize services around a content database. The core of Web 2.0 services is the content repository, which creates a competitive advantage based on the quality and importance of the data. Mashups, combining content from multiple sources, are a prevalent practice in the Web 2.0 world.

  7. The Eternal Beta: Operates under the "Eternal Beta" concept, releasing services regularly and continuously to users. This principle emphasizes releasing minor, modular updates to users, turning them into commenters and covert partners in development.

  8. Rich Development in Small-Weight Models: Employ rich development protocols and programming languages (SOAP, AJAX, REST) for small-weight services to ensure a rich user experience. While this principle is more technical, it plays a crucial role in developing Web 2.0 services.


These principles collectively define the innovative landscape of Web 2.0, emphasizing collaboration, user engagement, and the continuous evolution of services.


Navigating the Landscape of Web 2.0 Applications:

The categorization of Web 2.0 applications proves challenging due to existing developments in the market that encompass various aspects such as developmental, marketing, and operational functionalities. O'Reilly, in conjunction with Wikipedia, delineates four potential levels of applications:

  • Level 3 Applications (Most Web 2.0): These applications thrive exclusively on the Internet, deriving their strength from human connections and web influences characteristic of the Web 2.0 era. Efficiency increases with frequent user engagement, exemplified by platforms like eBay.

  • Level 2 Applications: Operable both online and offline, these applications leverage significant advantages from network effects, as seen in platforms like Flickr.

  • Level 1 Applications: Also operable offline, these applications boast additional network capabilities, illustrated by iTunes, which includes an online store.

  • Level 0 Applications: Functioning offline, MapQuest serves as an example. Additionally, non-web-based applications for communication, such as phone, email, and instant messaging software, coexist.


Delving into specific application types integral to the Web 2.0 world:

  1. WIKI: A structured site where users collaboratively edit and contribute content, WIKIs embody partnership and co-production. Notable for its association with democracy, WIKI engines, facilitating the creation of such sites, can be freely downloaded from the web. The renowned example, Wikipedia, competes admirably with traditional encyclopedias, showcasing the potential of user-generated content.

  2. Blogs: While resembling personal diaries, Blogs, unique to Web 2.0, offer dynamic, updated collections of pages over time. With 57 million blogs counted by the end of 2006, the blogosphere emerged as a separate environment. Blogs receive high attribution, and using RSS (described below) plays a pivotal role in their success.

  3. RSS: Introduced in 2000, Really Simple Syndication (RSS) enables content subscription through feeds. Users can tailor their reading experience, accessing new content or format updates based on their preferences. RSS, an essential factor for blog success, facilitates customized reader sites, streamlining content filtering and consumption.

  4. TAGGING: Users and content creators can employ tags to label pages, forming links between content based on shared tags. Unlike traditional taxonomy, Folksonomy allows users to freely create tags, contributing to a dynamic and associative system. Flickr exemplifies the effective use of tags in a massive photo-sharing platform.

  5. SOCIAL NETWORKING: Applications designed explicitly for social networking contribute to a larger social network. Platforms like LinkedIn, with a business-operational focus, and Orkut, catering to social interactions, enable users to expand their social networks. MySpace, an extensive social network, incorporates various features such as photos, videos, blogs, forums, and events.


Web 2.0 applications collectively shape a dynamic online landscape, emphasizing collaboration, user engagement, and the continuous evolution of digital interactions.


Tracing the Evolution of the Internet:

How did we reach this point? What propelled the Internet toward such profound advancements? According to Musser & O'Reilly, several factors contribute to this transformative journey, encompassing technological innovations, widespread connectivity, and fundamental aspects of human nature. Key developments include:

  • One Billion People Connected: Technological advancements have facilitated the connection of one billion people to the Internet, marking a significant milestone in global connectivity.

  • High-Speed Bandwidth in the U.S.: More than half of the United States is now connected via high-speed bandwidth, emphasizing the widespread accessibility of faster internet connections.

  • Diverse Communication Channels: The communication landscape has expanded beyond traditional internet connections, with parallel channels like cellular networks playing a pivotal role in enhancing connectivity.


In this context, Web 3.0 applications are already emerging, introducing a more sophisticated paradigm. These applications aim to transition the internet from an unstructured environment to a structured one, particularly regarding data organization. Notable examples include automatic tagging and advancements in business intelligence. This signifies a departure from the conventional computing model, challenging the separation between display, logic, and data. The success of these applications remains uncertain, prompting anticipation and observation.


Looking further ahead, Web 4.0 looms on the horizon, promising further advancements and innovations. While the specifics of Web 4.0 are not detailed here, its impending arrival suggests an ongoing trajectory of evolution and progress within the digital realm. The ever-changing landscape of the Internet continues to unfold, with each phase building upon the foundations laid by its predecessors.


Enterprise 2.0: Bridging Web 2.0 into the Corporate Landscape

Enterprise 2.0 encapsulates the integration of Web 2.0 infrastructures and tools within organizational frameworks. Much like the evolution from the internet to intranets a decade ago, Enterprise 2.0 leverages Web 2.0 as its foundation. While knowledge management stands out as a significant beneficiary, it is essential to distinguish between two primary levels of interest:

  1. Adoption of Technological Infrastructures: Incorporating small-weight modules, employing the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) concept, and embracing technological aspects such as SOAP, AJAX, and the perpetual beta model.

  2. Adoption of Web 2.0 Applications: Embracing applications like blogs, wikis (including Twiki, facilitating the integration of diverse wikis), RSS, and tagging (Folksonomy, not Taxonomy). Some organizations also consider instant messaging and enterprise search engines Web 2.0 applications, though opinions remain divided.


While this article primarily focuses on the second layer, it is crucial to distinguish between using Web 2.0 tools for internal and external purposes within organizations. Some organizations utilize these tools internally, akin to an intranet, while others extend their use externally to engage with customers, partners, and suppliers, resembling an extranet.


Organizations are actively implementing Enterprise 2.0, with industry giants like IBM, Motorola, Northwestern Mutual, Procter & Gamble, Ford Motors Co, Nike, and more leading the way. Despite this, there is ongoing debate among analysts regarding the nature and extent of this phenomenon.


Analysts' perspectives on the collective mind within organizations vary:

  • Gartner predicts a 5-10 year timeline for implementing the collective mind concept.

  • McKinsey's survey indicates that about half of organizations embrace a collective sensibility approach.

  • Framington cites Forrester Research, reporting that over 90% of leading organizations using Web 2.0 applications are already positioned.


However, reluctance among IT managers, primarily driven by information security concerns, is apparent. This hesitation may also stem from a concealed fear of overwhelming installations, maintenance challenges, and potential loss of control.


The actual adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools is a work in progress. While some organizations enthusiastically explore these tools, they are yet to become integral to the core tool environment. External trends, organizational culture, and knowledge management practices will likely play pivotal roles in gradually assimilating the Enterprise 2.0 concept. How organizations leverage these tools and integrate them into their operational fabric will influence the transition from hype to reality.

Knowledge Management 2.0: Integrating Web 2.0 into Knowledge Management Practices

As professionals in knowledge management, we find ourselves in a contemplative stance regarding the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Despite years of dedicated efforts within organizations, managing knowledge at both the managerial and employee levels has often faced significant passivity. The primary obstacle, historically, has been a need for more time, although the current awareness and recognition of the necessity have evolved. As the boundaries between work and personal life blur due to increased connectivity (laptops, remote communication, mobile devices, and emails), the question arises: Are people more inclined to share at home, possibly because the content is unrelated to work? The introduction of Web 2.0 into the organizational landscape prompts us to ponder its unique attributes compared to traditional knowledge management tools. Is there something inherent in Web 2.0 tools that facilitates sharing?


For knowledge managers, comprehending the essence of Web 2.0 and identifying potential benefits for organizational knowledge management is crucial. Our exploration will unfold across four levels of comparison:

  1. Ideological Conceptual Level: Understanding the fundamental ideologies that underpin Web 2.0 and how they align with knowledge management principles.

  2. Orderly Principles Level: Evaluating the structured principles inherent in Web 2.0 and their compatibility with established knowledge management frameworks.

  3. Functional Level: Assessing the practical functionalities of Web 2.0 tools in contrast to traditional knowledge management tools.

  4. Cultural-Organizational Level: Analyzing the impact of Web 2.0 on the cultural and organizational aspects of knowledge sharing within an organization.


By delving into these levels of analysis, knowledge managers can gain insights into the potential synergies or disparities between Web 2.0 and traditional knowledge management practices. This exploration is vital for crafting effective strategies that harness the strengths of both approaches to enhance organizational knowledge management.


Conceptual-Ideological Analysis:

Dave Snowden, a prominent figure in European knowledge management, posits that Web 2.0 primarily revolves around technology, distinguishing it from knowledge management. He argues that Web 2.0 enthusiasts overlook the inherent complexity of people and organizations, treating them as intricate systems rather than flat entities. According to Snowden, attempting to influence change instead of meticulously planning evolution can yield superior outcomes. In his view, social computing is not about choosing a single optimal tool but fostering the evolution of various tools alongside individuals and the environment. This approach allows for the emergence, stabilization, and dissolution of new interaction patterns until an optimal trajectory is achieved.


Acknowledging that not all knowledge management practitioners endorse Snowden's perspective is essential. Many believe in characterizing solutions, considering a solid initial characterization as a foundation for fostering sharing and initiating the right path. Although it's recognized that solutions will evolve continuously, the current portal and knowledge site environment enables frequent, gradual changes—a departure from the conventional software versioning seen in traditional information systems. Regardless, Snowden's stance is unequivocal—Web 2.0 exists separately from knowledge management, offering increased complexity, layering, and potentially more significant impact on organizations.


Confident analysts approach this discussion from the perspective of knowledge management challenges. Knowledge management and its tools suffer from negative perceptions, with both administrators and users expressing disdain, as noted by Gartner. This unfavorable sentiment contributes to the eagerness for alternative approaches. While not all knowledge management tools share the same drawbacks, the general perception remains unfavorable. Amidst debates about the demise of knowledge management, Web 2.0 tools emerge as appealing options due to their small, lightweight, and cost-effective nature, as highlighted by Spanbauer. Some authors view Web 2.0 favorably, either as a potential savior for knowledge management or a valuable aid to it, as seen in the perspectives of Cleaver, Yeo, Spanbauer, and Tebbutt.


On the other hand, some analysts, like McLean, Dale, Young, and Carr, express caution and reluctance. If Web 2.0 is perceived as mere hype, they question the rush to integrate it into knowledge management and organizational sharing. The comparison is inevitable in their eyes, as avoiding it might only harm the context of knowledge management.


From a comparison at the ideological and perceptual levels, we will now delve into more practical comparisons.

Principles of Orders:

In the initial section, we outlined eight principles of Web 2.0 orders. We will now compare these principles to those of organizational knowledge management.

  • WEB 2.0: WEB Principle as a Platform- A corresponding principle in knowledge management is treating technology as a platform. Knowledge management relies on four interrelated components: culture, process, computing (technology), and design. Notably, Prusak and Davenport, as mentioned in their book "Working Knowledge," emphasize the indispensability of technology. However, investing more than a third of resources in technology transforms knowledge management into a technological project rather than an activity.

  • WEB Principle 2.0: Development of Services- A parallel principle in knowledge management is web services. Web services are the standard method for sharing contextual data and information in portal panes and professional desktops. In knowledge management, the focus lies not in the ideological development but in the practical application of developed applications through services.

  • WEB 2.0 Principle: Active Participation of Users- A corresponding principle in knowledge management is the active participation of users. Knowledge management revolves around sharing and preserving knowledge over time. Active user involvement is crucial for success in this domain. However, unlike the extreme decentralization in Web 2.0, controlled sharing is vital in knowledge management. This involves managing and planning solutions centrally, providing a user layer as content experts responsible for regular updates, and sometimes controlling user-added content.

  • WEB 2.0 Principle: The Service Improves Automatically the More You Use It- A parallel principle in partially correct knowledge management suggests that active participation leads to richer content and improved services. However, this doesn't reach the same level as Web 2.0, where the software's core is built on automatic improvement based on quantity.

  • WEB Principle 2.0: The Collective Mind (and the Long Tail Principle)- A corresponding principle in collective knowledge-mind management emphasizes the collective mind. Nonaka and Takeuchi, in "The Knowledge-Creating Company," highlighted the success of Japanese culture in developing knowledge through sharing. Yet, the basics of knowledge management don't sanctify the long-tail principle. While everyone's opinion is heard, solutions are built on the central core, the 20%, aiming for critical mass.

  • WEB Principle 2.0: Content Repository- A parallel principle in content-knowledge management is one of the four core components. Content is integral, along with culture, processes, and computing. Over the years, the centrality of content has become evident in efforts related to organization, accessibility, processing, filtering, and more. Accessibility is critical in most implemented knowledge management solutions.

  • WEB Principle 2.0: Eternal Beta- A corresponding principle in so-called knowledge management is irrelevant. Knowledge management isn't solely about technology. However, in knowledge sites, communities, and portals, the concept of first-version development followed by continuous additions aligns with the evolving understanding and desire for knowledge sharing.

  • WEB Principle 2.0: Rich Development in Smallweight Models- A parallel principle in knowledge management is irrelevant. Knowledge management doesn't engage with the technological aspect, making comparisons in this dimension baseless.


An overall table analysis suggests that the conceptual gaps between Web 2.0 and knowledge management are not substantial. While differences exist, particularly in centering decentralization, most aspects of Web 2.0 align with the traditional concept of knowledge management.


Functional Capabilities:

Web 2.0 tools can seamlessly integrate into organizations without requiring modifications. Additionally, many of these tools are available for free or at relatively affordable prices. Simultaneously, several specialized tools have emerged to tailor Web 2.0 tools to internal organizational environments in the past year. These adaptations address security levels, file attachment capabilities, and integration with various organizational systems. Examples of such tools include Koral, Illumio, and iUpload (refer to Spanbauer's article for more details).


The following functional comparison explores the sharing components present in widely accepted Web 2.0 applications and their equivalents (either partial or complete) in traditional knowledge management tools. This comparison focuses strictly on functionality and does not consider infrastructure or pricing.


Web component 2.0 - WIKI

Feature - Structured Knowledge Pages

A component with a similar feature in traditional knowledge management tools is Web Content Management (WCM) tools. These tools are utilized for managing content-intensive sites, both internal and external.


Gaps - WIKI is considered user-friendly for updates at content and structure levels, with a potential disadvantage in free structure-level updates. The Wiki excels in structuring relationships but is perceived as homogeneous per site. This limitation can be mitigated using TWiki or linking HTML pages connecting various sites.


Web component 2.0 - Blog

Feature: Personal diary with the ability to access it as a complete diary, allowing users to see new content first, followed by the rest.

A component with a similar feature in traditional knowledge management tools can be implemented in various classic knowledge management tools, including content management tools, WCM tools, or portals. Storytelling is a knowledge management solution that is not virtual but similar in features to a diary.


Gaps - The main innovation in blogs lies in the idea rather than the manner of implementation. Blog success is attributed to the blogosphere, where members prioritize content from colleagues, fostering a sub-world in search engines and RSS applications.


Web component 2.0 - RSS Component

Feature - Alerts about new content items and changes to existing content items by category.

A component with a similar feature in traditional knowledge management tools includes alerts in content management tools and portals, regular search engines, notification panes, renewals, and updates on various portal pages.


Web component 2.0 - Tagging (Folksonomy)

Feature - Ability to tag an item in a personal, subjective manner.

A component with a similar feature in traditional knowledge management tools can be found in portals' menus, search engines with advanced search characteristics, and content management tools with menus and properties. These are based on taxonomy with uniform characteristics at an organizational or departmental level.


Gaps - Several gaps exist:

  1. Tagging practices may differ in Web 2.0, where everyone can tag, and knowledge management tools, where only the author may tag.

  2. Labeling nature differs, with Web 2.0 being personal and subjective and knowledge management being uniform and organizational.

  3. The nature of documentation is entirely open in Web 2.0 or restricted to closed lists in knowledge management.


Web component 2.0 - Social computing component

Feature - Create Shared Communities

A component with a similar feature in traditional knowledge management tools is knowledge communities.


Gaps - Web 2.0 communities often revolve around hobbies and personal domains, such as del.icio.us sharing tags and favorites, YouTube video sharing, and Flickr photo sharing. Knowledge communities, however, typically have a professional basis. Both tools offer a platform for dialogue, file sharing, and content organization based on structured categories.


As observed, the principles of Web 2.0 align with knowledge management principles. While applications may differ across domains, traces of most features can be found in traditional knowledge management tools. However, success requires an environment with complementary tools, considering environmental and people parameters, as noted by Snowden. The coexistence of tools with similar qualities but different emphases adds value rather than detracting. If Web 2.0 introduced entirely different tools, integration into the knowledge management concept might need to be clarified. The current complementary nature ensures its place.


[2] Accepted tools on the subject: CMS, Scepia, and more.


Organizational Cultural Comparison:

We'll commence with Carswell's insights. While much discussion revolves around users, he emphasizes the significance of considering their age. Young people are the primary adopters of Web 2.0, and Carswell suggests that these individuals expect to have the same tools available in the organizational context. This insight can be leveraged in organizational knowledge management to attract the younger generation, known for their ease in embracing cultural changes and technological innovations.


Solobakar adds that, like knowledge management, more than the mere existence of tools in Web 2.0 is required to attract and engage users. An emotional investment in the supporting environment is crucial to stimulate usage. Trust, interest, and emotional investment are prerequisites, echoing the cultural challenges in knowledge management and Web 2.0.


Cleaver highlights a significant difference, noting that knowledge management primarily focuses on the organization's goals, whereas Web 2.0 centers around people. Shifting the focus on knowledge management to individuals and allowing them to share willingly can build trust, save time, and encourage active participation.


Tebutt continues this line of thought, suggesting a move from forcing knowledge sharing in organizations to promoting voluntary participation in a social context. Social sharing tools have proven effective, and adopting these tools can elevate knowledge management to a new level. The essence lies in facilitating voluntary engagement, as people are more willing to share when engaged socially.


Conclusion:

Web 2.0 introduces innovations to knowledge management, emphasizing people, decentralization, and tools. Adopting these tools, such as WIKI, can enhance knowledge management, especially considering the expectations of younger generations. The positive impact and fresh perspectives make these tools valuable additions.


However, caution is advised. Success doesn't solely depend on tool adoption but also on embracing the underlying principles. Knowledge management may not be ready for the extreme decentralization seen in Web 2.0, requiring organizational control and guidance. The corporate world differs from the Internet, and the long-tail principle may not apply universally.


The cautionary note emphasizes the need for a wise and measured adoption, avoiding blind enthusiasm. Integration should occur at the tool level as an extension of the existing toolbox, recognizing the maturity and compatibility of users willing to share. A balanced approach, acknowledging the unique characteristics of the organizational context, will benefit all stakeholders.


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