Blogger: Joe Niski
Back in July at OSCON, I was thrilled to learn that I'm by no means in the minority in wincing and rolling my eyes every time I hear the phrase "Web 2.0." It made me feel a bit sorry for Tim O'Reilly (who handled it like a champ). To my jaded ear, catch-phrases such as "architecture of participation" and "social networking" are almost as bad - and things like Second Life are even further down the ladder.
As cool as Second Life is in a demo or a 10-minute test-drive, I don't know many people who'd say they have adequate time for their first lives of family, friends, and in-person, real-time relationships and community. Curmudgeon that I am, I'm just as unconvinced about the value of most social-networking sites for anything but displaying one's personal foibles for all the 'Net to see. For example, I've gotten numerous generic LinkedIn requests from folks I haven't had contact with for years, and when I accept their invitation to link and send a personal message, I never hear anything back. Plus, LinkedIn seems to be a source of unsolicited email from recruiters. So, it was great to see Tim addressing Social Networking Invitation Etiquette very recently. When invited to join a new network with a similar purpose, I took a quick step backwards when they asked me to install software that would scan my Outlook address book to graph my professional networks (to their credit, they make it easy to opt out once you've gone through the mandatory registration required just to look around - but install software from an unknown site? to read my address book? why *shouldn't* I be highly suspicious?). When a former colleague who makes a sincere effort to keep in touch invited me to join him on FaceBook, I created an obfuscated identity, again just to be able to investigate the site's features, and found myself deeply unwilling to reveal enough information to possibly make it useful. I'd rather spend the time with him over lunch.
It's not that I'm such a privacy fanatic - I know that there are many ways of learning about people online, even if they don't spend time online. I just don't have the time - or the motivation to use my time - to get engaged in that medium. And beyond that, I have serious doubts whether there's real value for this in an enterprise context - tried & true threaded discussion tools, as well as those new-fangled wikis, do a great job for focused collaboration where email falls short. More importantly, can humanity's ever-diminishing attention span sustain the effort to keep the public Web 2.0 bubble from popping soon? Pop culture is notoriously fickle - how can you build a business upon anything but it's fickleness? And if you're not building a business on top of it, or not using it to help sell your consumer product, how can it be used to benefit your business? It's nice to know that I'm not the only one asking the latter question - the great post on TechCrunch titled "Will Human Laziness Burst The Web 2.0 Bubble?" says it much better than I can.
Yes, I sound like a cranky old Luddite - and this area is outside my team and responsibilities at Burton Group - but I'm trying to understand the phenomenon, to make sure I'm not missing something. My question is serious. What's the value of social networking tools inside the enterprise firewall?