Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Threat of Social Software

A year and a half ago there was a seminar on Social Architecture at Harvard where Stowe Boyd asked the question: Is Business Ready For Social Software? The premise of the question was that web 2.0 will so revolutionize how business is done, managers will either learn to use it or become extinct like the dinosaurs of old. It is true; Social software threatens traditional project management, which focuses on control, by eliminating that control and freeing the project team to collaborate more effectively amongst themselves and with others who choose to participate.

I suggested at the time, and believe even more firmly today, that this idealistic view misses one of the key characteristics of modern business practices: self preservation. Yes, business will adopt social software, but only once it has bent and distorted it to resemble the rest of today's portfolio, removing all of the threatening aspects of the new technology (while at the same time crippling any of its real strength as a change agent). In other words, corporate America will adopt the technology but not the paradigm and make the technology subservient to existing management processes and practices.

This negative view is visible in today's most popular software products, such as Microsoft Office 2007, where web 2.0 "features" are integrated into proprietary products. the view is also reinforced by conversations at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. While listening through the recordings, the conversations sounds agreeable enough. However, there is a noticable dissonance between the advocates for web 2.0 technologies and those working with them inside the enterprise.

It may have been discussed in full (I haven't listened to all of the talks), but thus far it has only popped up as a few off-hand comments throughout. But the divide is there. During the discussion of Embracing Enterprise 2.0, Kim Polese of SpikeSource and Joe Schueller from P&G talked about the issues of implementing web 2.0 technologies within corporate intranets and the need to integrate with existing DM technologies, providing "control" within the collaboration environment. But their presentations were punctuated by comments (from Ross Mayfield, I believe) that illustrate the stark contrast between implementers and advocates:
  • "Don't deploy it. It isn't a deployment, it's an adoption... These things are all viral.. deploying doesn't work."

  • "How do you collaborate with control? Isn't that like an oxymoron?"

So the question becomes: how does a "wiki" implemented using SharePoint V3 using Windows authentication differ from any other SharePoint site? Put another way, how is it in any way similar to a real wiki?

(continued in Part 2)

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