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Beyond Web 2.0 Oat Bran

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 14, 2008

oatbranWe’re starting to see more acceptance, adoption, and even demand for Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise. Rather than being viewed as a threat to productivity, the technologies are being seen as key to innovation, employee and customer engagement, and other competitive advantages. As folks have pointed out, though, companies are now starting to look for better integration of Web 2.0 with their enterprise software. As it stands, we’re seeing mostly the equivalent of “Web 2.0 Oat Bran” today.

What is Web 2.0 Oat Bran?

A bit of background – in the early 90’s, studies found a link between ingesting soluble fiber and a reduction in “bad cholesterol.” Oat bran turns out to be a good source of soluble fiber, so there was the expected avalanche of foods being labeled as “high in oat bran!”, “20% more oat bran!”, “beat cholesterol!”, etc. Now, for products that already contained oat bran, this was a natural way to highlight their perceived health benefits. What got a little carried away were the products that added oat bran so that they could be seen as healthy solely due to the presence of oat bran. First, there are more factors than simply how much oat bran one consumes related to cholesterol levels, and if the product with the added oat bran contains enough other ingredients that negate the benefits of the oat bran, then there’s really no benefit compared to alternatives.

So it is with Web 2.0. Currently, most “social” enterprise activity takes place apart from other business processes or activities. Employees access their enterprise social network, view profiles, view connections of connections, etc. Then, when it’s time to work on defining a goal, update their development plan, locate a supplier, etc. they access a separate app. There might be a chat icon thrown in and perhaps embedded BI. What is missing is the potential to significantly enhance the app by incorporating your social network into the process. So in effect, we have good, useful social network software being used in the enterprise, but it’s like added “Web 2.0 oat bran” – good for you, but maybe we need to be looking at making the apps themselves more “social-healthy.”

Making enterprise applications more “social-healthy”

Charlene Li touched on the potential of using social networks more effectively within applications in part of her talk and presentation about “Social networks will be like air.” In it, she talks about four components in the ongoing evolution of social software, including a “Social context for activities.” She gave the example of seeing reviews from your social network on a book you are browsing, instead of today where you see all reviews. In effect, your social network is being integrated into your shopping task. Of course, we are seeing an advent of “social shopping” sites and so forth lately, but that starts getting into Charlene’s other points about single social graphs and so forth.

So what enterprise activities can be enhanced by incorporating your social network? They might include such things as: improving decision-making by accessing your network’s take on your issue at hand (e.g. goal definition, customer support), improving your productivity by seeing what related tasks your network is working on (e.g. goal execution, project planning), improving your development and growth prospects by getting immediate feedback from your network (e.g. creating a development plan, learning), etc.

Using social network software within the enterprise is making companies more productive, innovative, and competitive and at the same time helping employees learn and grow. Let’s keep exploring where social networks can be effectively integrated into the enterprise business processes so that we get even more value from this technology.

5 Responses to “Beyond Web 2.0 Oat Bran”

  1. thomas said

    good point Mark.
    I recently wrote about volunteered and coerced data, and this picks up on a similar theme.
    I may need to borrow your bran analogy !-)

  2. Amy Wilson said

    I seem to recall a rash of wheat germ cookies in my youth. I’m also addicted to email. Are these two things related?

    Thanks for posting this great analogy, Mark. The specific examples of how you can embed your social network into work tasks is particularly helpful.

  3. Meg Bear said

    Bravo Mark. Exactly right that we need to be anti-hype while pro value. I can think of very few things in my professional sphere that is not enhanced by my network. Making sure that this technology is used for the tool that it is vs. the end in itself, is critical to getting real value and avoiding the fad perception.

  4. @Thomas – Thanks for the comment and please help yourself to the analogy. I credit my first exposure to the “Oat Bran” meme when I was working at Apple on object-oriented technolgies. Mark Vickers back then noted a flood of what he called, “Object-oriented Oat Bran” where software vendors were popping up all over the place claiming to be “object-oriented” and therefore full of goodness.

  5. […] by Mark Bennett on December 19, 2008 Continuing the food analogy of the “Web 2.0 Oat Bran” post (it’s the holiday season), let’s say we’re all agreed that better […]

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