Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Knowledge Management and Canadian businesses

Here’s the glimpse of my master’s research project. I am planning on surveying Canadian businesses and find out how well Web 2.0 technologies are being used in knowledge management. This is the first several pages of my literature review. The full copy is available here. I will be updating it as I go along. Any comments and suggestions will be appreciated.


Advent of new communication technologies has turned information industry upside down. It relieved governments, corporations and media outlets of the role of information gatekeepers and put the power of content generation, dissemination and control into the hands of an average user.

While governments, businesses and media giants around the world are grappling with the challenges posed by new informational age, users are rushing to take advantage of digital opportunities that suddenly became available to them. Blogs, Wikis, photo and video sharing services, social networks, online communities and virtual worlds are just a few elements of what is now called an Era of Web 2.0. An era, where information is generated, transmitter and consumed by user and on user’s terms.

Already well-established in social lives of younger generation, the phenomenon on Web 2.0 is gradually finding its way into the business world giving rise to new approaches to collaboration and information sharing within and outside companies. This new way of developing business is shaping the idea of the Enterprise 2.0, an enterprise, managed by the principles of Web 2.0.

Although the concept of Enterprise 2.0 still largely resides in the minds of technology advocates and more resembles a wishful thinking than workable model, it has all chances of becoming reality, once the generation of Facebookers, MySpacers and Twitters comes into the offices and starts influencing business decision-making processes.

What is Web 2.0?

Coined in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci, a consultant on electronic information design, and popularized in 2004 at a meeting organized by O’Reilly Media, Web 2.0 has come to describe the way information is generated, shared and organized in the modern world.

According to Tim O’Reilly, one of the propagators of Web 2.0, “Web 2.0 doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core. You can visualize Web 2.0 as a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from that core.” (O’Reily, 2005).

To better demonstrate what Web 2.0 really is O’Reilly suggested a Web 2.0 Meme Map pictured below.

Diagram 1


Some of the major changed that can be observed during shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is focus on multitudes of smaller customers, decentralized content generation, easy information sharing, more cost effective solutions, collaboration and compatibility.

O’Reilly demonstrated the difference between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 by contrasting the online service providers representing the two eras. Some of the examples involved product evolutions and capabilities, while others are about behavior.

DoubleClick –> Google AdSense
Ofoto –> Flickr
Akamai –> BitTorrent –> Napster
Britannica Online –> Wikipedia
personal websites –> Blogging
evite –> and EVDB
domain name speculation –> search engine optimization
page views –> cost per click
screen scraping –> web services
publishing –> participation
content management systems –> wikis
directories (taxonomy) –> tagging (“folksonomy”)
stickiness –> syndication


What is Enterprise 2.0?

The formal definition of Enterprise 2.0 first came from Dr. Andrew McAfee, of the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2006. He defined Enterprise 2.0 as “Strategic integration of Web 2.0 technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes.” (McAfee, 2006).

To better illustrate the definition McAfee provided a real-world example of E2.0 (E2.0) concept in action.

By the fall of 2005, the European investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW) had just completed a rollout of three new communication technologies to most of its employees. The tools, which included blogs, wikis and messaging software for groups and individuals caught on first among IT staffers, who soon realized that the initial wiki environment lacked a feature called presence display. That is, it didn’t offer a way to tell if another employee was at his or her computer.

Why E2.0?

So why is it important to go implement E2.0 at your particular business? Why 51 percent of global companies with 2,000+ employees are investing in E2.0 solutions? (Perez, 2008) [Diagram 3]

Diagram 3

Why are these new technologies so attractive to business across the globe?

After all, all of them already have access to communication media such as e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, telephones, document sharing and knowledge management solutions, and so on.

Andrew McAfee says it is because these new technologies are significant because “they can potentially knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously” (McAfee, 2006).

In his paper McAfee suggests to understand the shortcomings of the technologies currently used by knowledge workers, then examines how the newly available technologies address these drawbacks.

McAfee divides information technologies into two categories. The first comprises channels – such as e-mail and person-to-person instant messaging – where digital information can be created and distributed by anyone, but the degree of commonality of this information is low. E-mails can only be seen by parties involved in the discussion.

The second category, according to McAfee, are platforms like intranets, corporate Web sites, and information portals. These are the opposite of channels in that their content is generated, or at least approved, by a small group, but then is widely visible—production is centralized, and commonality is high.

For a long time, knowledge management systems have tried make the best out of the both ways.

“They have sought to elicit tacit knowledge, best practices, and relevant experience from people throughout a company and put this information in a widely available database. It seems appropriate now, however, to refer to KM systems in the past tense; they didn’t even show up in a survey of the media used by knowledge workers published in 2005”, says McAfee referring to a study, by knowledge researcher Thomas Davenport.

The survey showed that channels are used more than platforms, which according to McAfee was expected. “Knowledge workers are paid to produce, not to browse the intranet, so it makes sense for them to heavily use the tools that let them generate information”, he concludes.

So what’s wrong with current channels and platforms that are available?

Davenport found that while all knowledge workers surveyed used e-mail, 26 percent felt it was overused in their organizations, 21 percent felt overwhelmed by it, and 15 percent felt that it actually diminished their productivity.

In a survey by Forrester Research, only 44 percent of respondents agreed that it was easy to find what they were looking for on their intranet.

A second, more fundamental problem, according to Davenport’s research, is that current technologies for knowledge workers aren’t doing a good job of capturing their knowledge.

As Davenport puts it: “The dream .. is that knowledge itself – typically unstructured, textual knowledge – could be easily captured, shared, and applied to knowledge work… [has not] been fully realized…. Progress is being made … [but] it’s taken much longer than anyone expected”.

In the practice of doing their jobs, knowledge workers use channels all the time and frequently visit both internal and external platforms (intranet and Internet). The channels, however, can’t be accessed or searched by anyone else, and visits to platforms leave no traces. Furthermore, only a small percentage of most people’s output winds up on a common platform. Thus, the channels and platforms in use aren’t much good at providing answers to such questions as: What’s the right way to approach this analysis? Does a template exist for it? Who’s working on a similar problem right now? What are the hot topics in our R&D department these days?

According to McAfee it’s probably safe to say that within most companies most knowledge work practices and output are invisible to most people. “The good news is that new platforms have appeared that focus not on capturing knowledge itself, but rather on the practices and output of knowledge workers,” he concludes.