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Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into an Enterprise Technology?

Wikis, mashups, social networking, even Second Life can have a place in business, but they need to improve legacy interoperability???and IT needs to overcome its skepticism.

Forget outsourcing. The real threat to IT pros could be Web 2.0. While there's a lot of hype and hubris surrounding wikis, mashups and social networking, there's also a lot of real innovation—much of it coming from increasingly tech-savvy business staff, not the IT department.

"We've cut IT staff by 20%, and we're providing a whole lot more in terms of IT services," says Ken Harris, CIO at nutritional products manufacturer Shaklee. Harris started with a mashup platform from Strike Iron, and found mashups such an effective way to integrate multiple Web services that he turned to Web-based service providers to replace in-house functions. Now, Shaklee gets its ERP from Workday and search from Visual Sciences, and it's looking at other IT functions that SaaS can replace.

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And Web 2.0 means more than just SaaS. Though the term is often abused, all the various technologies, products and sites grouped together as "Web 2.0" do have one thing in common: interactivity. The original Web was based on a simple client-server architecture, designed for electronic publishing. That worked well for Internet-based books, magazines and mail-order catalogs, but not so well for more complex applications. Web 2.0 is closer to the peer-to-peer architecture of the underlying Internet, designed for two-way communication. At the technical level, it replaces static HTML with (usually) JavaScript applications that continually send and receive small chunks of XML or text. At the social level, it means Web sites that let people communicate with one another, not just read or shop. Instead of passive consumers, Web surfers can become active creators. This is why Wikipedia is seen as the archetypal Web 2.0 site, even though it's been around for six years and doesn't feature much new technology.

All that interactivity ought to make Web 2.0 ideally suited for business use. After all, most workplaces are about production, not consumption. However, enterprises lag far behind consumers in adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. What's more, our poll shows that interest in technologies like blogs, wikis and mashups has gone down during 2007, despite their explosive growth outside the firewall.

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