Social media and Web 2.0 – revolution not evolution

I was reading an article by Martin Veitch in last week’s IT Week about the release if IBM’s Lotus Connections, a set of tools that brings MySpace-like social networking to big business. IBM has been reported as saying that …”Connections will offer a way to automate knowledge management through the usability of social software combined with security, authentication, directory, storage management and integration with enterprise software such as Lotus Notes”. This coming hot on the heals of Microsoft providing wiki-like functionality to Sharepoint.

What I’ve not been able to detect with all this Enterprise 2.0/Web 2.0  hype emanating from the  big vendors is any real understanding of the human side of social networking and how to cross the divide between the hobbyist and fun culture underlying environments such as Myspace and Flickr, and the culture of big business or government. Control and command cultures still dominate, particularly in the world of central government, where the very thought of having self-organising communities of practice that might threaten the unitary culture is tantamount to encouraging revolution! Encouragingly, there is growing evidence that social networking and use of software to facilitate more effective networking and knowledge sharing is gaining some foot holds in local government.  However, even here, interference by IT departments (wherever they detect some loss of control) and managers who ‘just don’t get it’ can still deter all but the resolute. Maybe its not quite a revolution yet, but the natives are definitely stirring. The IDeA’s version of Enterprise 2.0 – its Community of Practice platform – has grown from nothing to supporting 29 CoPs in only 4 months. My own experience during this time has been that developing the software tools is the easy bit; getting people to understand that this heralds an entirely different way of working is the challenge. I’d like to see some of the big vendors in this space, such as IBM and Microsoft, devoting a bit more time and attention to the cultural shift that must occur before there is any significant take-up of social software within business or government. The revolution is coming, but the rebels need some help!

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