Beware false prophets.
Riding on the coattails of Web 2.0 technology are vendors who want your business -- and they're trying all sorts of tactics to get it. But experts warn: Stay away from vendors that promise a Web nirvana in a box.
Many CIOs will believe they are buying a competitive advantage by investing in vendor solutions based on Web 2.0 technology, such as Ajax and RSS. Valdes said this approach might give a company a short-term advantage, but competitors will quickly nullify that advantage by adopting similar technology.
Some vendors are selling products labeled "Web 2.0" technology. But when it comes to Web 2.0, technology is just a means to an end. The real business value lies in what the technology enables: better collaboration among users. In fact, a growing number of companies are developing new business models to take advantage of the collaboration the technology empowers.
Valdes warns that while the products allows companies to build Web 2.0 applications, a company will also need to know how to use those apps to encourage the social interaction that is integral to the concept. It's "more than just the technology," Valdes said.
It's nice to add widgets such as Ajax and RSS to your Web site, but companies also have to find ways to realize the social aspect of Web 2.0, to attract users, to encourage them to contribute content, to create metadata with tagging and social bookmarking, and to build intellectual capital.
The social aspect of Web 2.0 "can lead to a new kind of business," Valdes said. "It can lead to new markets. It can lead to new sources of revenue. It can build up as a situation where an organization has assets and equity that other competitors don't have, and therefore they have a sustainable competitive advantage. Those assets and equity are not necessarily financial. They are intellectual property."
When CEO Steve Kaufer founded TripAdvisor.com in February 2000, he launched a search engine for the travel industry that morphed into a $100 million company by leveraging Web 2.0 technology (although the term Web 2.0 wasn't coined until 2004.)
Originally Kaufer envisioned the now classic first-generation online business, where users have one-to-one relationships with the service provider. Users would search for information they needed for planning a trip. They would find the information, book their travel plans and quietly move on.
"We were going to be the travel search engine for the Web," Kaufer said. "People who wanted to find out anything about travel would use our database for all the best links. But the model morphed pretty quickly into collecting commentary and being more of a community site."
Today TripAdvisor.com features more than 5 million individual user reviews of hotels and travel destinations. Users can read reviews and then click on links to online travel agencies. Those companies then pay lead referrals to Needham, Mass.-based TripAdvisor LLC.
Kaufer included the option for users to write reviews from the very beginning, but he didn't anticipate then that it would eventually become the heart of his business.
According to Gartner's Valdes, in the days of Web 1.0, a consumer would go to an online travel site and see the official information about a hotel and make a reservation. TripAdvisor.com leverages Web 2.0 technology to allow users to share information, warts and all. They get a more complete picture, they can make a better decision, and they'll be getting greater satisfaction with the service.
TripAdvisor.com could have settled for some fancy features using Ajax and an RSS feed, but it was the idea of letting users contribute reviews that really added value to the company, not the fancy widgets. It's now a company whose greatest asset is the social interaction among users, according to Valdes. That's the heart and soul of Web 2.0. Any company can be a portal for travel. But 5 million user reviews takes it from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0.
A CIO can't just slap Ajax-powered features onto a customer-facing Web site and expect to duplicate this success, Valdes said.
Of course, Web 2.0 always carries with it certain risks, and CIOs might have to sell the concept to the guys upstairs.
"In some cases you can think it's a good business strategy to go after this Web 2.0 phenomenon and others in the business might say, 'Sorry we don't think it's appropriate,'" Kaufer said. "If the objection is, 'This is going to hurt our sales,' that is an extremely valid objection. Understand why it would hurt sales."
Kaufer said the Web 2.0 label slapped onto a software package can mean anything to anybody. It's important that CIOs identify what customers would want from user-generated content and other social aspects to the technology. He said the social aspect of Web 2.0 might have nothing directly to do with selling a product, but it can create branding opportunities and build relationships with customers.
Web 2.0 "might scare some people, but you can try a lot of things out and it's technically not that hard," Kaufer said. "It doesn't need to be a major push for the company."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer