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McKinsey forgot the forums

McKinsey, the consultancy, has published its latest Global Survey: “How businesses are using Web 2.0” (free registration required). Surprisingly or not, it’s hardly worth the read. Not just because it’s the usual mash of imprecise questions about investment intentions and current projects (that is what this kind of surveys are for) but because it’s surprisingly incomplete.

Pears, lemons, and some stray branches too

Its definition of Web 2.0 is quite missing; one would hope for more from McKinsey, not just a list of technologies. Literally (second page of the article), they look at the use and demand for:

  • Blogs.
  • Collaborative intelligence (“any system that attempts to tap the expertise of a group rather than an individual to make decisions. Technologies that contribute to collective intelligence include collaborative publishing and common databases for sharing knowledge”).
  • Mash-ups (“aggregations of content from different online sources to create a new service”).
  • Peer-to-peer networking (P2P)
  • Podcasts.
  • RSS.
  • Social networking (“systems that allow members of a specific site to learn about other members’ skills, talents, knowledge, or preferences”.)
  • Web services.
  • Wikis.

Is it just me, of does this list mix lemons and pears? True, “web 2.0” is itself an imprecise field, but not that much. If we go to the source, something McKinsey could have done too, we find it defined as not just a set of technologies but a set of ideas and practices that can be synthesised in three: emergence, collaboration, integration (that’s my own analysis, free :-)).

Blogs, wikis and podcasts are types of media based on new content management technology; P2P, arguably, is too. Mash-up is a development philosophy (building things that integrate others) based in the use of standards such as XML and open APIs. Web services is a set of technologies that allows to invocate one application from another through the use of standard methods (again). RSS is yet another one of those integrating threads, that enables the publishing and integration of content across sites and applications. Mixing the technology underpinnings with the resulting products is, to say the least, disappointing. One expects more insight from the brightest people in town.

Putting the foot in, deeper

Besides this, McKinsey cites collaborative intelligence and social networking.

Social networking is not a directory, it is the tools to make use of it to further personal or business goals. It is the enabling technology for a relevant change in business behaviours, and a new awareness toward those all-pervading networks. Social Network Analysis (SNA) does not seem to ring a bell, nor the works of INSEAD’s Prof. Herminia Ibarra on this field, to mention but two.

Collaborative intelligence is a less catchy name than wisdom of crowds for “tap[ping] the expertise of a group rather than an individual to make decisions”. It is one of the trendiest issues in management: that wisdom is being tapped to do all thing from pricing to designing (sort of). What it is not is “collaborative publishing and common databases for sharing knowledge” as McKinsey proposes. The first is a long phrase for “wiki” (already dealt with) and the second is the oldest game in the field of Knowledge Management… so how did those three things end up in the same paragraph?

Let’s be frank

I don’t really mind if McKinsey puts a garbled message into their surveys or mix pears with lemons. Most of their respondents won’t be able to tell the difference (it’s not their job, except for CIOs). It’s a pity that the survey misses being so much more significant and interesting, but that’s not skin off my nose.

McKinsey apparently wanted to show those respondents (“40% C-level officials”) that it gets it. It plainly doesn’t, not fully. But that is something I don’t care about, really: I’m not about to hire them, and they’re not about to hire me.

The thing that really itches me is something that goes deeper. Because nobody, not even O’Reilly as far as I know, has bothered to include in the “Web 2.0” hype-wagon one of the best, most real tools that makes emergence and collaboration happen (and which, nowadays, fully handles integration). It is also a spawning ground of social networks, and the seam of crowd wisdom, and half the collected Holy Grails of Web 2.0, all rolled into one.

I’m talking about web forums, the epitome of participatory media and emergent content. Yes, those ever-present descendants of ancient BBSs. Yes, the haunt of conversations, networking, online communities, collaborative work and problem solving… nowadays enhanced and threaded with every trimming, from RSS to AJAX to integration with other media.

Somehow, all this evidence is not enough to turn the limelight on them :-). It keeps getting hogged by such newcomers as wikis (a real change, just now becoming usable by the masses), blogs (our old personal pages, spiced up with RSS, trackback and ease of use… and already everywhere) and podcasts (more properly, the ability to easily publish and subscribe to them… potentially important). Yes, they’re whizzy. Yes, you can be cutting-edge by expounding on them.

But the fact is that that emergence, collaboration and integration (and attendant technologies) have another, firmly implanted, well developed, well known and widely used proponent. It’s not a new word. But it works.

People and companies interested in harnessing collaborative media and modern knowledge management tools could do worse than keeping them in mind. Along with the Web 2.0 concepts… whatever they finally are :-).



2 comentarios en “McKinsey forgot the forums

  1. The place of web forums in the ‘Web 2.0’ world intrigues me, too. I asked my friend and seasoned Internet journalist Phil Wainewright (http://blogs.zdnet.com/SAAS/) why he thought they tended to get left out, and he said it was because they weren’t ‘new’ enough. Whilst that may be true, I think it might also be because they tend in practice to be ‘less serious’ than blogs, for example. I’ve been using one for years in connection with my hobby of motorcycling, and whilst it can be cerebral it can also be like a public brawl at times. There ought to be a place for forums in the enterprise, but there could be a barrier to overcome in the shape of their image.

    Publicado por Simon Carswell | mayo 8, 2007, 3:05 pm
  2. The “new” factor counts: most web 2.0 prophets are selling, and selling forums would be complicated. They’re a hard product to set up, promote and manage :-). Quite different from a blogging platform, with lots of shiny software and less people management. Besides, you can’t be “leading edge” about old-hat technology.

    On the other hand, the experience of almost every software house (Oracle, IBM, Sun, Apple, Invision… whichever) with support forums is extensive enough to prove that they can be both serious and productive.

    I don’t really know. It seems to me that blogs and most asset-sharing apps put the onus on communication, not on collaboration. When a shared product appears, it “emerges” with no conscious collaboration. On the other hand, you have wikis, which are as collaborative as you can get…

    Publicado por Miguel | mayo 8, 2007, 4:26 pm


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