Can Web 2.0 play in the UK too?

by oneafrikan on October 13, 2005

One of the reasons I’ve been quiet of late is that I’ve started a project where one of the things I’m looking at is emerging web technologies and trends in the UK (if you’re American that may read Web 2.0).

The future is bright, the future’s…
Tim O’Reilly as usual does a great job of distilling the Web 2.0 landscape into something meaningful, highlighting what the state of play is, and where things are going. You should read it if you haven’t already. Dion Hinchcliffe looks at the participatory nature of Web 2.0, concluding that “In the end, how you make it easy for your Web users to blog, podcast, media share, mash, tag, etc. doesn’t matter. But always give them rich, easy, and sharable ways to contribute their voices clearly and loudly on the Web. That’s how Web 2.0 works.” That’s funny – I was always looking for that, but it seems that now it’s becoming ubiquitous thanks to countless hours from developers around the world, working to enrich the web.

This is all underscored by an obvious “This is really cool stuff, but we’re in the service business, so how do we make money out of it?” question, which of course we’re all wondering. At the moment, it seems that there is a lot of focus on social software of sorts, which is mostly in the startup mould. So, we’re wondering whether there is anything beyond all the hype surrounding Web 2.0, that will interest clients enough to go (read: experiment) with essentially “unproven” technologies in their businesses.

In my mind, there is a big difference between the business application of Web 2.0 technologies, and how the individual uses those same technologies to do something, so we’ve been doing research specifically around the following questions:

  1. How the technologies are entering the market?
  2. What role they will play in enterprises / corporates?
  3. What the adoption rate is likely to be?
  4. Who is doing it?
  5. Which vendors are talking about it?
  6. Which vendors are offering services around these technologies?
  7. And perhaps most importantly, what technologies are likely to be winners (so it’s not just about the technology itself, but all the factors combined)?

The phenomenal growth of social software [Flikr; Newsgator / Feed Demon; Del.Icio.Us; Wikipedia; Orkut; Linkedin; Upcoming.org; WordPress.com / WordPress.org; MySpaces; Technorati; Pubsub; Bloglines; Google Maps; BBC backstage; Rollyo; Meebo; Gada.be to name a few I can remember offhand] in recent times is prompting a buying and spending spree which we’ve not seen for a while, which a lot of people are seeing as the next boom (or bust, whichever glass yours is) [Yahoo! bought Flikr and upcoming.org, Newsgator bought Netnewswire, AOL bought Weblogsinc, Verisign acquired Weblogs.com, Rupert Murdoch also made a spate of acquisitions all within a month or two a while back].

But where are the business applications / services that use the same technologies? I can think of some [Newsgator Enterprise; Basecamp / Backpack; Salesforce.com; Zimbra; Writely?; Socialtext; Sharepoint] but are there more? Am I missing something? Ryan Carson is working tirelessly to release an on-demand application aimed at businesses and individuals, which I’m really excited about – but where are the others that are doing the same thing? Is the inherent conservativeness and cynicism of the British culture holding it back, or is it just that we’re all at sea and quite far behind?

Bottoms up
So far, it seems that we’re witnessing a bottom up Web 2.0 technology adoption curve. Where web services are underscoring a mish mash of software that is changing the way we as consumers find, consume and share data. So I guess the question is, how do we drive this adoption into businesses usefully, using the same fundamentals?

Starting a startup and doing something cool with Web 2.0 is one thing (and there really is a flurry of activity going on at the moment), but we’re really looking hard into how we can take the promise of Web 2.0 to clients who know they want to fully leverage what the web is becoming, but don’t know how to do it.

Specifically, we’ve been looking at RSS, blogs, Wiki’s, podcasting, microcontent, web analytics, Sharepoint, communities and intranets; all within the corporate business environment and therefore the business applications and benefits of each. We’ve also looked at the consumer driven applications of these technologies, but since we’re in the service business, we’re looking at how to enable businesses to use these technologies, not how we can create and implement concepts ourselves.

For example, RSS, blogs, Wiki’s and podcasting could all be used as tools to accomplish the following in a B2B / B2C context:

  1. Communication and information sharing within the business (Collaboration)
  2. Interaction between customers / clients / suppliers / partners / shareholders and the business (Push)
  3. Delivery of information about the business / products / services to customers (Pull)

Trends come and go, but the writing’s always on the wall
So, so far we’ve come up with a few trends which I think are interesting but are in no way exhaustive:

  1. Growth of online communities
  2. Growth of Sharepoint as an out of the box intranet (suitable for most uses)
  3. Growth in use of web analytics to measure ROI
  4. Growth of the web as a platform for services
  5. Online consumption in the UK still very traditional and media based, innovation driven by advertising and content rather than interaction
  6. Blogging not as big as it seems to be in the US, definitely not mainstream (the British aren’t culturally big adopters of “Hey, look at what I think” technology – Tom Coates says it well here)
  7. Very few people know what RSS is – RSS has started in the mainstream with BBC RSS feeds and Google News RSS feeds, but most people still don’t know what it is or think of it as voodoo
  8. Very few people know what a podcast is
  9. Even fewer people know what a Wiki is, but some know what Wikipedia is and what it does
  10. Microcontent even less known

We all know the pros and cons of the above trends and tools quite well, but who is actually doing it for their clients? Are clients doing it for themselves? Or is the fervency of the moment making me forget that the rest of the world (or at least as far as the South Bank of the River Thames…) just doesn’t care yet?

Who’s got the minerals?
One of the things that have surfaced in our research so far is that there don’t seem to be many vendors that are visibly pushing Web 2.0 stuff to their clients in the UK at all, let alone many people talking about it. Individuals that come to mind offhand are Tom Coates, Simon Willison, Ben Metcalfe, Andy Budd, Ryan Carson and of course Cal Henderson (although technically he’s in the US now, but he’s an Englishman so we’ll count him ;-) But these guys are all individuals connected quite tightly together, part of a small network espousing Web 2.0, but within the broader scheme of things are disconnected from the mainstream – so where are the big players?

Andy Budd and the guys from Clear:left are poised to offer Web 2.0 type services to clients in the UK, but as yet they’re not quite there as they’ve just launched. They may disagree with that, so let’s hope they start some discussion here… [On that note, they’ve put together an inaugural “Web 2.0 for the UK” conference in Brighton (d.Construct) which is a great step forward. Good on them – Silicon Valley is pretty far away from London ;-)]

There are a few Microsoft vendors (Domino, Artemis, and Conchango come to mind) that are doing good work with Sharepoint (as an intranet platform), but that’s about it (that I know of). For the record, Sharepoint isn’t quite Web 2.0 yet (IMHO), but I feel it’s as close as an enterprise can get today, out of the box. Outfits just mentioned have the skills, credibility and relationships to do some awesome stuff, but from what I know most of their work is pretty corporate software / backend systems based. I can’t see their corporate clients investing in new emerging technologies when there is so much else on the priority list to be done today.

So where does that leave us?
I’m not quite sure yet – this is a work in progress, and there are loads of unanswered questions floating about, with lots more research to do!

I’d love to hear what you think?

Update: FeedLounge is also an emerging Web 2.0 app which I think has legs – it’s in Private Alpha Testing, but I’ve read good reports from various people via their feeds, and the if the screenshots are anything to go by, it’s awesome.

Which also reminds me of the screenshots I’ve seen of the new Yahoo! mail interface, which is tipped to top Gmail when it is released… looking forward to that ;-)

11 comments

i can’t wait to see Ryan’a app [no pressure!]. i also think it is a matter of time before Microsoft kills their “Discussion Forum” format currently in Share Point for the exploding blog formats. and starts including RSS / XML feeds as the norm. GBG

by Geoff on October 13, 2005 at 12:00 am. Reply #

Gareth, there is so much good stuff in here I have to read it again before commenting. I KNOW this stuff will be useful, it’s simply a matter of how we all get there…. More comment after I’ve looked from more angles.

by Bryan Foss on October 13, 2005 at 12:00 am. Reply #

An interesting and thought-provoking article. It seems to me that, by their nature, ‘Web 2.0’ technologies are well suited for organisation and community knowledge sharing initiatives. That is where I see it applicable and saleable: as enabling technologies for the knowledge sharing / enhancing and complex project / change initiatives, probably bundled as part of the total service. But I would say it since these are areas I am interested in and services I see myself being able to provide to the clients.

I am struggling to see how you would succeed in selling the Web 2.0 technologies by themselves for a sufficient premium. But this problem disappears when they are offered as part of the overall solution.

Looking forward to other comments. Dragan

by Dragan on October 14, 2005 at 11:38 am. Reply #

Mr Knight –
Your analysis of the web.2 and developments is worth a second read. A clear indication that your insights are definately worth internalising. Trends and most importantly which technologies take off require a number of drivers to converge at a point. It generally generally takes a myriad of pressure points to move in a certain way.
Common sense tells me that the commercial applications of new technologies should be a no-brainer for business. Yet this not happening. My view is that the challenge with the web.2 and the developing applications is that they are disruptive to existing business models. Their revenue streams are too illusive to warrant investment therein. So, my take is that it is from applications targeting consumers that you will see customer-centric applications thriving.

by Masedi Molosiwa on October 14, 2005 at 12:31 pm. Reply #

Geoff,
Ryan’s app is awesome – and I think you’ll be impressed ;-)

From what I hear, I think MSFT is going to be doing that in Office 12, as they’re seeing that shift to RSS/XML as an important one. I think they’re looking at making RSS “ubiquitous” in Office 12…

;-)

by Gareth Knight on October 14, 2005 at 2:30 pm. Reply #

Hi Gareth, I hope you’re well.

I read your article and read O’Reilly’s too. I must admit I did find them informative and thought-provoking, not to mention very well written.

My two-penny’s worth is that the concept of ‘Web 2.0’ makes me laugh, as it’s extremely ironic. I’m fairly certain the irony is intended by O’Reilly or who every coined it, but to put a version number on what is just a more current evolutionary stage of a ‘living and breathing thing’ takes us back to pre-packaged software release memories – it seems like some habits die hard with developers.

In terms of application of this knowledge. If you’re working for a corporate (as a contractor or consultant etc) – then I don’t think there’s much money in knowing what we know now. Traditional bricks and mortar Corporates save millions of pounds with IT that supplies the real-time exchange and collaboration upon data – simple as that – it’s about cost, not about revenue for them. It’s getting cheaper to develop such systems in the new age, but in principle – they’re still striving to achieve the same thing, cost reduction – irrespective of Web 1, Web 2 or Web 10.

However, what the concept of Web 2.0 is doing as you point out, is its reshaping the new business landscape completely, and I love the point O’Reilly makes about the data and database being the true ‘asset’ of the Googles and Amazons of this era. We’re going to see more new businesses in the West leveraging the collective and viral revenue benefits of a growing online customer and more and more businesses in the East benefiting by providing greater aggregated supply at lower costs.

Effectively – the major development for me of this era is the de-coupled geographic value chain. Marketing & Sales in the West – Suppliers, Manufacturing and Logistics in the East – with a very lean Management team in the ‘virtual’ middle.

As for pure ‘clicks’ businesses like Business IT Online (www.businessitonline.com) – the main point for me is that a team with a headcount of less than 10 can make millions of pounds quite easily, which is very appealing!

Keep well!

by David Cruickshank on October 14, 2005 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

We’re currently in the process of finishing up a project for a large DTI funded organisation who are in the next few years are going to lose their funding (several £m a year). The project involves a redesign of their website, CMS and CRM systems and we’re including many of these so called Web 2.0 services – RSS, site personalisation (Web 1.0??), Wiki and Blog functionality.
Luckily for us, getting the client to see the benefits of such services to their user and internally, now and in the future, and as a positive step to generating future business was a no brainer. We didn’t pitch these seperately but as part of an overall solution so I’m in agreement with Dragans’s comments above.
Agreed that it seems to be a small network talking it up here in the UK but I’m convinced that it won’t be long before Web 2.0 ideas and processes seep into the mainstream and wonder why it was something we hadn’t started doing and selling to our clients earlier.

by Andy Field on October 14, 2005 at 2:43 pm. Reply #

Thanks for your comments guys – lots to think about!

I went to the Geek Dinner last night, with Tim O’Reilly, and got to listen and participate in some interesting conversations, so there’s a bit to update here now.

I’ve got to dash now, but will come back later and put some more thoughts down. ;-)

by Gareth Knight on October 14, 2005 at 5:03 pm. Reply #

Hi Gareth,

Good article. I’m sorry I missed the dinner with Tim O’Reilly, I’d have definitely liked to be there but was tied up elsewhere.

I think that your observations make a lot of sense. I think that your rundown of the status quo is also pretty accurate.

As you know, I’m very interested in RSS but I can also see exactly why it’s not taking off at the moment and that’s because for most people, there’s not that much that they have to gain from consuming it. Most people only check two or three websites a day and those that they might check less often and would appreciate updates from don’t have feeds.

What’s the point in gettting a reader when you’re only planning to get the BBC news each day and even that’s not full text?

Peter

by Peter Nixey on October 15, 2005 at 2:32 pm. Reply #

Bryan – thanks – looking forward to your comment.

Dragan,
Agree with you on the knowledge sharing initiatives. I think when you look at it all as part of a service offering to a corporate customer, it makes enourmous sense for both faciliatating the project as well as enabling the team concerned to carry on once the project has been implemented.

I also agree with you regards selling Web 2.0 technologies by themselves – I think that kind of mindset is destructive as it encourages a waste and “Godspeed” mentality. After doing some more reading, it looks like the consensus for stuff like Wiki’s and Blogs underscored by RSS is around information flow, reducing unneccesary email, and engaging with customers and employee by pushing the right information to them when they want to read it.

Masedi,
I think your point about disruptinve business models is an important one to bear in mind – traditionally media was a top down affair, with the content regulated and approved by the top of the pyramid.

Now, however, we’re finding that people are able to talk to each other with increasing ease, and technology is enabling this grassroots type, bottom up flow of information to level the playing field for the consumer, as well as change the way we deal with information on a daily basis. Now, instead of visiting 300 information sources a day via a web browser, I check to see if the 300 sources have been updated, and choose which information I want to consume. This desire for choice, and a voice, I think, is driving innovation right now.

The benefits are obvious, and I think this sea change will have a dramatic effect for consumers once it starts going mainstream. And then, as you point out, I think it will start filtering into mainstream business. Microsoft Office 12 I think will have a lot to do with that mainstreaming effect…

David,
You’re right about the Web 2.0 thing, but then what else would you call it so people knew you were talking about next generation web apps? I think your point about reducing cost is valid, so I guess the question is then “can these technologies make things more efficient, so as to reduce cost, either through resources used, or time made more efficient?”, so that the technologies become useful in the enterprise…

Your point about data rings true for me as well – who owns the data, what are they doing with it, and how are they allowing people to mash it up to make it more useful… and since data knows no boundaries, geography becomes a function of cost and convenience.

Good luck with http://www.businessitonline.com! ;-)

Andy,
I’m super pleased to hear that you guys are doing that – thanks for the heads up. Would you say that a relationship was essential in winning the pitch, or was it more about the technology / solution you pitched?

Agreed regards the Web 2.0 network here in the Uk – do you know of any other suppliers / vendors doing anything in this space?

Peter,
Pity you missed the dinner – was pretty cool, and some cool people met as well. But, there will be others ;-) I was reading the Yahoo RSS Whitepaper earlier today (some kinda dubious conclusions about My Yahoo!), and it seems that most people have about 6 feeds in their feedreaders (whatever they are using), so your point about people consuming feeds and websites not using RSS to push content makes a lot of sense – so it seems that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the minds of the consumer, and a technology delivery shift or addition in the minds of the technologists. I wonder which will come first?

I hear you about the BBC – perhaps it’s most significant contribution will be alerting people to what RSS can do for them, and providing the credibility that people need to start changing the way they consume content?

Thanks for the comments guys ;-)

by Gareth Knight on October 17, 2005 at 4:19 pm. Reply #

[…] companies a new way to deliver their messages directly to customers. Following on from an earlier post about web 2.0 stuff, this is a good call to action to p […]

by oneafrikan.com » Blog Archive » IT Needs to Get On Board With RSS - Computerworld on October 20, 2005 at 10:54 pm. Reply #

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