Web 2.0: Participation, Trust, and Beta

Thanks to Virgil for bringing the bigger question of "is Web 2.0 more than just tools" to the broader community. I’ve struggled with how to respond. I think it is obvious that there is a concrete set of Web 2.0 tools, but in my opinion they shine a light on something bigger, particularly for associations. The three words that come to mind are:

  • Participation
  • Trust
  • Beta

One of the essences of Web 2.0 is that users do the creating. I noticed that in Associations Now, Glen Tecker is quoted identifying a "particular psychodemographic group" that tends to be attracted to leadership positions in organizations. He calls them "shapers." They tend to "get value out of participation in an organization because it lets them influence things, and that’s something that’s important to them."

I get this, but I think it is reflective of the old model, where to influence, you had to "participate" by being part of the Board (which might take you ten to fifteen years of playing your cards right, by the way).

Something I've noticed personally about engaging in Web 2.0 activities: I get to shape right away. I get to actually write the book. I get to start the organization. I get to mobilize the march. I get to define the term. Or at least I get to actively participate in these activities—instantly. The nature and meaning of participation is changing, in part due to what Web 2.0 tools can do.

The other big issue is trust. Again, I am really only reflecting based on personal experience, but I have noticed a shift in my own view of what I trust. We are all faced with having to make sense of a world that has too much information in it. All of us rely on trusted organizations or institutions to filter it for us. We have to, since we couldn’t possibly make sense of all the information ourselves.

I still rely on organizations, but with Web 2.0, I can rely more on my network. I know more people. I know them from what they say, and who they know, and how they comment, and what they write, and where they link. I didn’t used to have access to this many sources of information—particularly sources I could get to know personally, over time. I still value what organizations tell me and filter for me. But this new source—one I get to participate in—has important meaning now.

And the only reason I know all of this, is because I tried. I tested it out. I engaged in it BEFORE I knew it would work. That is also an element of Web 2.0—perpetual beta testing. If you waited until it was perfect, you would already have missed your window of opportunity. So I tried being a blogger before I was convinced it would be worth my time. I joined many online communities. Some of them did absolutely NOTHING for me. Others I still participate in actively. I’m trying facebook and Linkedin. Web 2.0 makes experimenting so easy.

So here's my own personal conclusion. The old way of doing things had some underlying assumptions:

  • participation that shaped things only happened when you had earned the right to control;
  • trust was something you gave out sparingly because to trust is to willingly give up control;
  • experimentation is a costly investment that, unless it produces a return, eats away at your control base;
  • the above three sentences are very scary.

Web 2.0 challenges those assumptions. It doesn't disintegrate them (there really is some truth in all of those statements). But they don't anchor reality as much as we thought they did. So as much as Web 2.0 does consist of a set of tools, I think it also represents a paradigm that is threatening to a lot of people in the association world, and that’s why I think there is a broad, defensive response (and, of course, your response may vary).

Due diligence is of course important, and Web 2.0 proponents definitely need to identify short comings of the tools and provide data-based arguments as to why we should experiment with the tools. It's a good idea to talk concretely about how the tools can help us reduce email clutter and communicate without convening meetings. But I urge everyone, individually, to reflect on this issue of control, and whether or not fear of loss of control, or outdated assumptions about control are overly influencing your reaction to these ideas. Facilitate conversations among leaders and stakeholders about those topics and push people to be as open as they can be about the issue of control. If you relegate Web 2.0 to a set of transitory tools, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity for learning.

And that's the real bottom line: Web 2.0 helps us learn better and faster. That's why I think it's more than just a toolkit.

Let's Talk About Workplace Culture


  1. 12.02.2008 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks, Jamie. I think you said it well, “Web 2.0 helps us learn better and faster”. Let’s hope we all can find ways to make this work in our respective organizations. And that we can share our successes (and almost successes).
    Thanks for all you do.

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