Web 2.0: Our winning ways

Future Exploration Network’s Ross Dawson tells AMANDA GOME the good news about Australia and web 2.0 – how businesses will benefit, the major trends, and the risks.

By Amanda Gome

Ross Dawson Future Exploration Network

Entrepreneur Ross Dawson is a leading international expert on the way businesses are using web 2.0 in Australia – and he has good news.

After lagging behind our international counterparts in the enterprise 2.0 stakes, Australia is starting to catch up in its use of blogs, wikis, social networks, social search and virtual worlds. 

Ross (right) tells Amanda Gome what’s hot, how businesses are benefiting – and what’s destined for the 2.0 dustbin.

He is happy to answer your questions. Write to him – before 29 February – via feedback@smartcompany.com.au


Amanda Gome: You held an enterprise 2.0 conference last week with both Australian and international case studies to showcase how organisations are benefiting. You’re an expert on enterprise 2.0. What surprised you?

Ross Dawson: It surprised me how similar some of the comments from people were, whether they were from the US, the UK or local organisations.

One common theme is to let structures emerge. The more structured you are, the less likely things are to happen.

Take the predecessor of Wikipedia, Newpedia. This was set up as a review site, but it wasn’t until that small part of the site developed, where people could do anything, that it really took off.

It is both technological change and social change that is resulting in a more transparent, more human-oriented society. But is it technology changing society, or society changing technology? Probably both are true, and we are all shifting in the same direction.

What else is new?

The focus on experimentation. It was the most prominent word used. Westpac is the stand out case. The chief technology officer, David Backley, discussed how the bank was using blogs, wikis, Second Life and other web 2.0 technologies.

He says they expect to make mistakes but that’s why they are learning how to get real business value. The more open approach is allowing experimentation and discovery of paths rather then prescribing before hand the way people should go.

So we are experimenting. Does this mean we are catching up to our international counterparts?

At last I am very encouraged. The response from people at the conference shows there is a lot happening. Up until now organisations have been shy about putting up their hands and talking about what they are doing. Up until now there has also been disparate things being done by different users in different departments. But now things are being squarely addressed by executives at the top of the company so people are prepared to talk about it.

Companies are striving to create more value from the participation of their employees, customers and suppliers by using web 2.0.

Virtually every large company is at least trailing wikis or blogs. As someone at the conference said to me, you can ignore it at your peril, but it’s going to happen anyway so you might as well get an idea of what’s happening, the risks, and work out a sensible approach to it. That’s where Australian organisations are going.

Big companies might be experimenting; what about smaller companies? How do you make this valuable to small organisations?

This was a topic of discussion at the conference. In some ways it is easier to use online applications and tools for communications internally and with customers.

You don’t have the legacy of existing technology and platforms or cultures that make it hard for large organisations to implement. For small companies this can be the most natural thing in the world.

Productivity tools are now moving into enterprise tools that are targeting smaller businesses. For example smaller businesses should be starting to use CRM systems. Take Zoho, which is a leading provider of online software. While it doesn’t have all the features of classic software, it has new updates every month and you can shape it yourself.

There are forums to visit if there is a problem that have moved online, such as Zoho. If you have an issue and raise it, they say they will have a look at it for the next edition. And they have a robust CRM system.

We are moving towards applications being hosted on the internet that are accessible from anywhere. We are also starting to get user interface that looks the same as if we had the application running on your own computer.

Are forums and blogs too risky for companies? What if someone hops on and bags the company?

There are senior executives afraid of people being able to express themselves. And if you have a toxic culture then you may want to stop people talking – if you allow them to talk it will get worse. But if you don’t it will get worse anyway, so an open discussion might be positive.

Microsoft has thousands of bloggers allowed to write whatever they want.

Should small companies use bloggers?

At least all small companies should consider it. You can use them for internal communication or to communicate with customers. Like project management, it becomes a functional tool.

If you have the different types of customers you want to reach and the right people to do it internally, there can be a lot of value.

How have you made it work?

I started my blog about five years ago to coincide with a book I launched.

I write it about three times a week (you don’t need to do it every day, but you should do it once a week for consistency so people can come back and see something new. There are different styles; some are just a few lines – “I saw something interesting, have a look” type of thing.

I always like to add an opinion or view. Typically the blog is a few hundred words and I ad photos or videos or visual diagrams. You can also develop a product. For example I developed a web 2.0 framework and that has been downloaded 50,000 times.

Can you charge for information on the internet?

For blogs and similar type of content it is extremely difficult and not worth trying. It is still possible to sell subscriptions. But the biggest trend is going towards an advertising-based model with more intelligent advertising. There are big shifts with ad revenues rising, which can support content, so it is possible to get sponsorship deals.

Content is shifting towards being more interactive and video-based, so sites are monetising through new forms of advertising. Last week Google launched a way to use Google AdSense videos. They put a strip at the bottom of the video and that is more engaging.

Personalising the advertisement is also the latest trend. The value of an ad tailored towards a specific person can be very high.

If someone is doing no web 2.0 or enterprise 2.0, or want’s to do more, where can they start?

The first step is to consider what is going to assist us in creating more value? What is going to make work easier? How can we communicate better with customers? That way we can start to see how the new tools are useful.

It is not a good idea to say let’s set up a blog or wiki, because it will fail unless there is no real reason for its existence.

So you have to know why you are doing it. To make a project more efficient, develop a deeper relationship with a customer segment… wikis, which lets everyone collaborate on a document, is the most common way to start.

They are so simple to set up, they don’t cost much and you need very little training.

And of course we have the world’s largest vendor of wikis on our doorstep – Atlassian is a leading Australian success story. Wikis characterise the first wave of broad adoption.

What’s next?

RSS is really changing the way consumers are getting information. It is amazing how quickly they are getting it and using it and also how organisations are using it to facilitate the flow of information.

Should companies block staff access to social networks?

Organisations need a starting point of understanding that often the personal networks of your staff are fundamental to the ability to add value.

Research has shown that the best way to predict someone’s future performance is the breadth and diversity of their personal network.

Take a law firm; it’s not sensible to ban Facebook. You want younger lawyers to have strong networks either now or in the future so they can bring work in. If you ban it you are also sending a message to say we don’t trust you.

How about for low-skill mundane jobs, and what else isn’t working?

In some cases you could block social networks, and I am very skeptical of the very small keyboards on mobiles because it is too hard to type. I think they are trying to do too much. They will be transcended by folding keyboards or keyboards projected on to a table. Voice recognition will also play a key role.




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