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Gartner Web Innovation Summit '08: Computing on the Web today means community, collaboration, and consumerization.
Posted Sep 16, 2008
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LOS ANGELES -- Web 2.0 has reached a tipping point, but Gartner analysts aren't ready to slap on a "Web 3.0" title quite yet. In fact, as analysts Gene Phifer and David Mitchell Smith pointed out at the opening keynote of the Gartner Web Innovation Summit here this week, there are many new terms to describe the evolving Web -- Mobile Web, Semantic Web, "Innovation" Web, Quality-Controlled Web, Virtual World Web, and Real World Web, to name a few. However, the Gartner vice presidents say that there is one overarching theme uniting all those terms -- and that is the cloud. Smith told attendees that cloud computing is gaining such traction in the industry, and is bringing so many tremendous possibilities to the table, that he imagines that next year's conference will take on the name "Cloud Computing and Web Innovation." Tat's how much the cloud is changing the face of software and the very nature of the Web. 

Although Phifer warned the crowd about how much hype there is out there, he listed five influencers of the modern Web and the enterprise:

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) continues to garner attention and subscribers;
  • world-class in-the-cloud applications (Google Apps, for example) are being brought into the enterprise;
  • consumerization is impacting the way customers and businesses operate;
  • Web 2.0 tools continue to permeate; and
  • open-source software allows for rapid development of applications and broadens their availabilty and breadth. 

Another area of interest during this week's summit is that of the community and social media. Clay Shirky, author, consultant, and innovate thinker delivered Monday's afternoon keynote, "Social Media and New Forms of Organization." In a new book that came out this past February, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Shirky proposes that, thanks to today's social Web, people are able to collaborate more than ever before. And collaboration, he told attendees, leads to innovation and change. As a result of social media, he added, the Web now allows people to create groups and to hold conversations.

"The meaning of the software isnt just in the software," Shirky told the audience. "It's what the users do with it." As an example, he said that he uses Twitter -- perhaps the year's most disruptive social media trend (and, not incidentally, one of CRM magazine's Rising Stars of 2008) -- and that social software along those lines (including such sites as Facebook and Yahoo!'s Flickr) fosters conversation and boosts collaboration.

Collaboration, however, isn't the end of the story, Shirly said. "Even more complicated than collaboration is collective action -- the most specific form of a group effort -- in part because collective action requires people to commit to a shared goal." Collective action can be a friend or a foe to a business, he noted -- and, as an example of that double-edged sword, he pointed to a story revolving around banking giant HSBC in the United Kingdom. The bank was marketing penalty-free checking accounts to recent college graduates, but the deal came with a catch -- an issue that caused many of those who signed up to voice complaints. One thing led to another and disgruntled customers formed a Facebook group to centralize their protest. Next thing HSBC knew, a large group of angry customers were demonstrating at the bank's headquarters -- a coalition established easily through Facebook's social platform.

Shirky made clear for attendees that never before has it been so easy -- and so inexpensive -- for people to gather. Before the dawn of the social Web, he said, institutions hosted organizations -- sometimes at a cost. Now social platforms allow for collaboration and communication among individuals -- for free. And the shift, Shirky added, means that companies need to be aware that building online communities or joining existing social platforms involves recognizing that companies can't control what kinds of groups are created. "I used to be a cyber-Utopian, but now I am a cyber-optimist," Shirky quipped, noting that unexpected and random social collaboration can emerge where least expected. 

"If you create something that's appealing you will gather them together," Shirky told the crowd, putting things simply. "A big part of change is social -- and it's not just about capabilities [of software]." Innovation, he added, starts to emerge when users become feel comfortable enough in an online community to contribute. "It's when [social software] is taken for granted that innovation really starts to happen."

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