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You see references to Web 2.0 everywhere. Technical publications, business magazines and newspapers are frantically covering the topic. But what is Web 2.0? More importantly, is it valuable to business executives or is it just consumer-oriented hype?

When you see "2.0", you're likely to think of a major new release of software. However, unlike software applications, Web 2.0 is not the next major release of the World Wide Web. The Web is far too big, diverse and complex to re-release. The name Web 2.0 represents a trend that manifests itself in new ways of thinking about and using the Internet.

While there no standard definition of Web 2.0, there is general agreement that blogs, podcasts, wikis, syndicated publishing (RSS), and social networks provide the basic framework. The emphasis is on activities not technology. It's about providing a rich user experience not page after page of static text.

Here's a quick look at the elements that drive Web 2.0 thinking.

Blogs let writers reach a broad and diverse audience while allowing readers to add their own comments and interact with each other. Think community.

Podcasts are audio publications that can be heard on computers or MP3 players freeing listeners from their desks. Think mobility.

Wikis are repositories of information that empower readers to add or correct content enabling them to learn from each other. Think collaboration.

Syndicated publishing using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a means of circulating information to subscribers upon request rather than forcing it upon them via email. Think user control.

Social networks are websites where people can find others like themselves and interact with them for professional or personal reasons. Think virtual networking.

The common thread among this diverse set of concepts is that the Web is the platform. You are no longer confined to your PC or your corporate network. Any device that can access the Internet can take advantage of Web 2.0 from anywhere in the world.

There are many underlying technologies that make Web 2.0 possible. Foremost among them are AJAX, Ruby on Rails and Flash. The first two are open standards. Flash is sold by Adobe. While these technologies have been around for many years, they are only now being combined and leveraged to make Web 2.0 possible.

So, what value does all this provide to the business executive and the enterprise?

The thought of corporate participation in an open, uncontrolled, anything-goes website causes many executives to just ignore Web 2.0. Yet, leveraging this trend does not mandate surrender to the freewheeling masses. In fact, you can create Web 2.0 sites for private corporate use.

Existing public or private corporate websites can easily add new functionality based on the Web 2.0 framework without a complete overhaul. This has enabled many companies to experiment with blogs, podcasts, etc. without investing large amounts of time and money.

IBM and Sun Microsystems are demonstrating leadership in this area. Take a look at their websites and you'll surely get a few ideas for your business.

Think about setting up an internal blog, wiki or professional social network. Later, you can broaden the capability to include customers, suppliers and/or partners on a virtual private network. You don't have to give the whole world access.

To get more ideas for using Web 2.0 to grow your business, visit some of the popular Web 2.0 sites. A short list to get you started should include Google Apps, NetVibes, MyYahoo! beta, Flickr, Technorati, Digg, Craigslist, Amazon, Rocketboom, Wikipedia and del.icio.us.

These sites take advantage of personalization and community to deliver a rich and rewarding user experience. They make it fun to find information and interact with others.

What if your employees could share ideas and help each other solve problems? What if your partners could share experiences with you and improve your go-to-market approach? What if your customers could interact with you and with each other to influence product direction and priorities?

Forget surveys and annual conferences. Give people a way to continually and freely interact. The rewards will be far greater. You'll build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.

To make this work, someone in a senior management role must moderate the online discussions. When people see senior management involved, they will want to participate, eventually. Give it some time. Getting people to feel comfortable and open up won't happen immediately.

Think about efficiency gains and cost reductions. Have senior managers post topics, ask questions, make bold statements, hypothesize, or wish upon a star. The idea is to engage the target community and solicit their feedback.

Don't make the mistake of creating a big, expensive, corporate program to "align the enterprise with Web 2.0". Such an approach is too slow and cumbersome to keep up with Web 2.0 advancements.

Instead, start small, move fast and learn as you go. The Web is changing rapidly as all of us discover new capabilities and share ideas. There are no big-bang, software releases. There are continuous, incremental improvements.

Ultimately, Web 2.0 is about empowering people and enabling collaboration. You can ignore it for now, but the younger generation is embracing it and will eventually demand that your company participate. Don't be left behind.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He helps companies avoid the subtle mistakes that cause missed deadlines, lost opportunities and fragile results. He shows them agile approaches that slash risk and cut development time so they get to market 25-50% faster. He helps them carry that momentum into the sales cycle using white papers and case studies that accelerate the selling process.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in May 2007.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.