Necessity is the mother of invention

Necessity is the mother of invention, unless of course you’re talking about technology. When dealing with technology, the front-runners seem to be looking for the next fad that leaves the rest of us clamoring to climb on-board. Worse yet, it seems like the fast-followers zero in on a single aspect of an emerging trend and replay it like a bad pop-song that is burnt into your brain.

I work in the association arena, and I admit that I’m more than frustrated that Web 2.0 has been boiled down to its least common denominator: "community". Web 2.0 isn’t a thing, but rather a concept. Social technology isn’t new, and community is something we’ve experienced since birth. You cannot force people to create a community – the best you can hope for, is for it to build a reasonable environment. You can however join a community, contribute to a community, and ultimately derive value from the community.

To fully understand, let’s start with the basic definition of technology: technology is the relationship that society has with its tools and crafts, and to what extent society can control its environment.

Next, apply the real definition of Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.

From the combination of these definitions it’s clear to see Web 2.0 is about mastering the platforms to manage the environment. The continued barrage of social and community only fragments the message and stalls the true innovation within the space.

Inevitably all my Web 2.0 conversations lead to, "How do I create a Facebook type community for my organization?" The short answer is, you don’t. It’s too late, and you’ve already missed the boat. With services like Ning, the number of Social Networks is multiplying like rabbits, and believe it or not, managing all these online personas takes a lot of time. Rather than building a community, embrace those that exist.

Just like your local community, online communities rely on experts. While the argument can be made that a community of mechanics would have issues to discuss about the profession, you’re not likely to find a number of folks with car problems. Even if you did, you would be explaining an elephant to a group of blind men and hoping for the correct results. My neighbor is a mechanic and I’ve built a relationship with him so that when my car breaks down I call him over to see what’s wrong. In turn, when his PC goes flakey he gives me a ring. The same goes for social communities, when I run across a situation that requires the expertise of others’, I turn to the community to help me find a solution. Obviously if I were in a community built of only like-minded professionals, my results would be limited.

So my best advice for dealing with the "community" issue is to have as many experts from your organization as possible joining and engaging in the community. Communities don’t manage themselves, so yes it does take time, but it helps create a reputation for your staff and your organization.

Another key point: capture the low-hanging fruit. If you’re not doing it already, build blogs in the vertical channels you have expertise in. Consider blogs as your Internet billboards, driving others to your content and experts.

My best advice for Web 2.0, is to not let the experts put blinders on you. Web 2.0 goes well beyond social and communities. Instead of applying technology where others are leading, look for needs that should be addressed. If your customers have a need to get information, then look for content aggregation and push opportunities. If your customers need experts, seek them out and build that directory to fulfill their needs. Remember, Web 2.0 is about the platform not the service. The abundance of API’s, inexpensive hardware, and programming talent makes almost any idea possible.

To get you started, I’ll give you my Web 2.0 focus areas for 2009:

  • Long tail content aggregation and delivery mechanisms
  • Volunteer management, communication, collaboration, and recognition
  • Career services and opportunity matching
  • Mobile as a platform
  • Asset sharing through Web Services

Let me know what your Web 2.0 ideas are…

4 Responses

  1. I believe even you have missed the boat. Web 2.0 is done, time to go to Web 3.0 or be left in the dust.

    Horrible title too.

  2. Thanks for the comment. With Web 3.0 definitions being thrown about it’s difficult to jump directly into it at this point. Semantic web, Virtualization, Mobile as a platform as well as several other technologies are all coined Web 3.0. In reality they are all just extensions of current technology, platform and collective. While many of these could be disruptive they still don’t warrent a verion change. I’d be interested to know your opinion of what Web 3.0 is.

    For the rest of the readers a definition from Wikipedia so we are all on the same page:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Web 3.0 is one of the terms used to describe the evolutionary stage of the Web that follows Web 2.0. Given that technical and social possibilities identified in this latter term are yet to be fully realized the nature of defining Web 3.0 is highly speculative. In general it refers to aspects of the Internet which, though potentially possible, are not technically or practically feasible at this time.

    Oh, if others hate the title I’m open to suggestions! I’m all about change.🙂

  3. I think one of the greatest strengths associations provide is bringing people together face-to-face. According to this month’s Harvard Business Review:

    “A recent MIT study found that in one organization the employees with the most extensive personal digital networks were 7% more productive than their colleagues…In the same, organization, however, the employees with the most cohesive face-to-face networks were 30% more productive.”

    Obviously, people can self-organize via meet-ups, but there’s a definite advantage to bringing tens to hundreds to thousands of members together on a regular basis. To this end, we’ve tried taking small steps, such as making attendee lists available to education course registrants as soon as they register, and linking these lists to our member directory. I think we can do a much better job of promoting that this information is available, and encouraging members to use this information to build business relationships.

    We’ve entertained the idea of building community around conferences — getting a blog started to inform members about the conference, holding World-Cafe style sessions a few months after the conference to let members share ideas on real-world results they’ve been able to achieve or problems they’ve encountered, and creating a listserv to allow attendees to remain connected. Thus far, we haven’t really done anything on this front, but there are possibilities there.

    I guess I would disagree with the previous poster that the Web 2.0 boat has been missed. Even if we’re not an early adopter of a technology does not mean that a later implementation won’t be useful, as long as it serves an otherwise unfulfilled need.

    • Thanks Misty, well said. You have some great ideas and insight. Even the small steps go a long way to driving value. I like allowing attendees to begin networking as soon as they register for an event. It seems this would allow people to plan on who to network with, or in my case who to avoid.

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