Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Herding Web 2.0 Cats

The BI vendor marketing departments are scrambling to get on the BI 2.0 bandwagon, partly as a means of doing something different with their products and partly because they've seen the success of the Web 2.0 juggernaut and want some of that action. The efforts to date have ranged from the fairly ordinary (let's bolt on a comments feature to our reporting tool, but bury it on a separate screen!) to the potentially good (I'm watching the 12Sprints stuff with interest).

The problem with BI 2.0 is kind of the same problem that Web 2.0 has, though: it's easily dismissed as nothing more than a marketing term, and each commentator has their own take on what it means. At least for Web 2.0 there's Tim O'Reilly's fairly reasonable outline of what he meant when he coined the phrase. For BI 2.0, though, the term means pretty much whatever the marketing department wants it to mean: your tool supports decision automation? BI 2.0 baby! Got a poorly thought out commenting feature? You bet that's 2.0!

POD and I have been watching this go on for a while now with interest and occasional amusement. Clearly the BI 2.0 term is inspired by the Web 2.0 equivalent, but we're not sure that everyone who lays claim to the term actually gets it. We reckon that the idea of BI influenced by the kinds of things that have been happening on the web can be a good thing, but to show that, we need to do some research on it. Before that can begin, though, we need to be clear in our own minds about what Web 2.0 is, and how those Web 2.0 features might apply in a BI setting. Our problem is that no-one, apart from O'Reilly, has really done a good job of saying exactly what Web 2.0 is, so we chose that as our starting point - this post (and the next few) is a way of testing the water to see if what we've come up with in that regard is reasonable.

To break this all into consumable chunks, I'll set this out over several posts, but start with a bit of an overview of what we've come up with - the detail will come later. What we decided to do was to work up to a coherent statement of what Web 2.0 is from the ground up. Rather than trying to cover every commentator's pet definition, we thought it would be more realistic to come up with a functional definition of the term. In other words, forget formal definitions - Web 2.0 is best described by what people actually do with it.

O'Reilly's original outline talks about lots of characteristics of Web 2.0 firms like "harnessing collective intelligence", having a "light" approach to development and so on. At it's core, though, O'Reilly's characteristics boil down to the shift from a consumer model to a collaboration model: the community is not a group of passive consumers, the community fundamentally contributes to the Web 2.0 site. O'Reilly talks explicitly about two kinds of contributions the community makes: contribution of content and contribution to the design of the platform. We took that as our starting point and built up a functional framework for Web 2.0.

In addition to O'Reilly's two types of contributions, though, we added a third. The key difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is the social nature of the latter (we reckon the term social media is a much better descriptor). Beyond the technology platform and the content hosted on that platform, we reckon that the social network itself is something that people contribute to as well. So, at the highest level, we reckon Web 2.0 can be described functionally with the following categories of use:

  1. Contributions to content (see this post)

  2. Contributions to the social network

  3. Contributions to the platform

Where are we headed with this? I'll flesh out each of these three in three separate posts, and perhaps wrap up with a fourth that summarises it all. But our end game really is to take this framework and use it to look at BI: If BI 2.0 is treated as a social media platform, what features might it have? How might it work? And ultimately, does the idea of applying social media concepts to BI hold any water?

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