Harnessing Collective Innovation with Web 2.0

While Dave Winer's BloggerCon takes place this weekend I'm still trying to rest up from the CTC conference in Boston earlier in the week. I gave a detailed - and probably too information packed - talk about Web 2.0 in the enterprise that focused on collaboration and the shift of control from whomever is in charge (management, developers, etc.) to users. At the end of my presentation, my top recommendation for was: And above all, provide a minimum structure and let users do [Enterprise Web 2.0] themselves.

I bring up BloggerCon because along this same line of thinking, the always irrepressible Chris Pirillo planned and delivered (more notes and the podcast from ZDNet's Dan Farber) a similar view of things. In his session he discussed the platform wars and the all-too-classic tension between users and developers; both often feel entirely the hostage of the other and feels that the other doesn't "get" it. This is an emotionally charged topic and one that's getting more and more interesting now that actual control over the creation of content and software really is becoming democratized, with the things most often labelled Web 2.0 leading the charge.

Certainly, many of us can clearly observe sea changes in the industry. There are  now truly massive amounts of user generated content flowing 24/7 from people into the Web every day all around the world. This is increasingly making those same users the single most important part of the Web. Then there is the mashup ecosystem, which is getting tantalizing close to the goal of entirely user guided experiences. Even blogs and wikis are now almost totally self-service and that as-yet-unattainable nirvana exemplified by failed attempts at 4GLs, model-driven architecture (trying to put the power of software creation into the hands of users) is finally starting to happen. 

I recently wrote about Apple's Hypercard software model from over a decade ago (use a hypercard's functionality, or hit edit and change the way the card works, wiki-style) that will likely become a leading model for creating recombinant software that can be informally shared amongst users. And yes, this will be almost entirely browser-based given that the browser is the most open, egalitarian place to do integration now. And as the trail of innovation continues, the best and most useful user "mods" to both business and consumer apps will be shared and the best ones will spread quickly in a viral fashion. And these mods can be any part of an page-based application: visual, the way the data flows in or out (with feeds and other external data sources interwoven), or even the very software itself, which can be increased customized by the user by adding new "widgets" of functionality, included like Google Maps. And with initiatives like OpenAjax to make all the pieces easy to fit together and standardized, the road is being quickly paved for the first true browser-based component model for doing all of this.

What's needed next are techniques for making Web-pages customizable in place (again, like wikis) backed by supporting, and likely informal, standards for making RIA-powered page-based apps easily changeable and shareable by anyone. I would venture to say this is an nearly inevitable vision for the future of software, and also quite scary to those that are in charge of making software secure, tested, and policy-compliant.

This implies that innovation in general will increasingly come from the edge, where all the people, energy, time, and creativity are. Central command and control will be relegated to the tasks it does best instead of guiding innovation, which usually (but of course not always) comes not from the center. It will be pulled out to people with the best motivation and context for making their software better, their way. And far from a return to selfishness, innovation usually works better when shared, encouraging creators to share their work to use as a platform for further shared improvements. Thus, opening up your customer base, employee base, user base or whatever to use your services, products, and information as a medium upon which to create and share innovation is one of the most promising new models for decentralized, efficient commerce and business.

Finally, here is the concluding slide of my Web 2.0 in the enterprise recommendations. While it's still too early to have a full list of how to exploit these new tools and techniques for something I'm starting to call "harnessing collective innovation", you can bet that this will become an essential technique for success in the marketplace. Those that figure out how to do it best will benefit the most.

Do you plan on using Web 2.0 to let your users and employees innovate with your products and information?

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Aiden Reynolds
Aiden Reynolds
Aiden Reynolds is a content editor at WEB 2.0 JOURNAL. He was born and raised in New York, and has been interested in computer and technology since he was a child. He is also a hobbyist of artificial intelligence. Reynolds is known for his hard work ethic. He often puts in long hours at the office, and is always looking for new ways to improve his writing and reviewing skills. Despite his busy schedule, he still makes time for his interests, such as playing video games. In his free time, Reynolds enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. He is also an active member of the community, and frequently volunteers his time to help out with local events.