One of the best definitions of Enterprise 2.0 comes from Professor Andrew McAfee, of Harvard Business School, who specifies it as follows:
Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.
Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.
Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people's interactions become visible over time.
Freeform means that the software is most or all of the following:
- Free of up-front workflow
- Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
- Accepting of many types of data
As an outcome of a conversation with Tim O'Reilly at the recent FastForward conference, he's adding another key feature of Enterprise 2.0 applications to the list: network effects . In his post, he points us to three key ground rules for establishing Enterprise 2.0:
- Build platforms, not channels
- Make sure they're initially freeform
- Build in mechanisms for emergence. These mechanisms include links, tags, powerful search, and in the case of prediction markets, prices and bid/ask spreads.
The above definition is obviously very powerful, and Prof. McAfee continues to refine it. Since his stated goal is to keep it concise yet comprehensive, I look forward to further iterations to see how it will change.
To add my own 2 cents, I think there is one more unstated element here - perhaps it is obvious, but it bears saying - which is: trust . The whole point of social networks is to enhance and accelarate knowledge-sharing within the Enterprise; in other words, these technologies amplify solutions to the cooperation problem, based upon enlightened self-interest, described so elegantly by James Surowiecki in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds. However, there are certainly organizations that fail to come up with a good solution to the cooperation problem. He provides an example from the world of Italian soccer:
(Since Italian teams are unable to work together to produce an entertaining game) ... the players devote an inordinate amount of time to protecting their own interests. Energy, time and attention that would be better spent improving the quality of play instead goes into excoriating, monitoring and trying to manipulate the referees. And the manipulation feeds on itself. ... Hardly anyone likes the system the way it is, but no one can change it.
As Surowiecki says: in the absence of trust, the pursuit of myopic self-interest is the only strategy that makes (economic) sense.
In such an environment, social tools like wikis could degenerate from cooperative platforms for sharing knowledge and harvesting collective intelligence, into areas ripe with hyper-competitive behavior and one-upmanship. (This may sound cynical - hopefully, you have never had the misfortune of working in such an environment!). Online social tools are, in the end, models of off-line behavior, so a company planning to deploy such tools would do well to examine its own internal environment first for a good fit, before jumping on the bandwagon.