Social Networking and All That Jazz

I was recently asked what I thought the impact of Web 2.0 and social networking has had or is about to have, on our profession. Here is my take:

  • The current generation of students going through secondary school and university (that will be hitting the employment market over the next few years) have spent most of their formative years using Web 2.0. For these people instant messaging, having huge groups of “friends” and organising events online is as second nature as sending emails and using computers to write documents is to us. How will this change the way we do our jobs and software and services companies do business?
    • Instant and informal networks (via Twitter, Facebook etc) will set up, share information and disappear again. This will allow vendors and customers to work together in new ways and more quickly than ever before.D
    • Devices like advanced smart phones and tablets which can be carried anywhere and are always connected will speed up even more how quickly information gets disseminated and used.
    • Whilst the current generation berates the upcoming one for the time wasted sending pointless messages to friends and creating blog entries hardly anyone reads they at least are doing something different and liberating, creating as opposed to simply consuming content. So what if 99.99% of that content is rubbish? 0.01 or even 0.001 amongst a population of several billion is still a lot of potentially good and innovative thoughts and ideas. The challenge is of course finding the good stuff.
  • Email as an effective communication aid is coming to its natural end. The new generation who have grown up on blogs, Twitter and Facebook will laugh at the amount of time we spend sweating over mountains of email. New tools will need to be available that provide effective ways of quickly and accurately searching the content that is published via Web 2.0 to find the good stuff (and also to detect early potential good stuff).
  • More 20th century content distributors (newspapers, TV companies, book and magazine publishers) will go the way of the music industry if they cannot find a new business model to earn money. This is both an opportunity (we can help them create the new opportunities) and a threat (loss of a large customer base if they go under) to IT professionals and service companies.
  • The upcoming generation will not have loyalties to their employers but only to the network they happen to be a part of at the time. This is the natural progression from outsourcing of labour, destruction of company pension schemes and everyone being treated as freelancers. Whilst this has been hard for the people who have gone through that shift, for the new workers in their late teens and early 20’s they will know nothing else and forge new relationships and ways of working using the new tools at their disposal. Employee turnover and the rate at which people change jobs will increase 10 fold according to some pundits (google ‘Shift Happens’ for some examples).
  • Formal classroom type teaching is essentially dead. New devices with small cameras will allow virtual classrooms to spring up anywhere. Plus the speed with which information changes will mean material will be out of date anyway by the time a formal course is prepared. This coupled with further education institutions having to keep raising fees to support increasing numbers of students will lead to a collapse in the traditional ways of delivering learning.
  • The real value of networks comes from sharing information between as diverse a group of people as possible. Given that companies will be relying less on permanent employees and more on freelancers these networks will increasingly use the internet. This provides some interesting challenges around security of information and managing intellectual capital. The domain of enterprise architecture has therefore just increased exponentially as the enterprise has just become the internet. How will companies manage and govern a network most of which they have no or little control over?
  • The new models for distributing software and services (e.g. application stores, cloud providers) as well as existing ones such as open source will mark the end of the traditional package and product software vendors. Apple overtook Microsoft earlier this year in terms of size as measured by market capitalisation and is now second only to Exxon. Much of this revenue was, I suspect, driven by the innovative ways Apple have devised to create and distribute software (i.e. third parties, sometimes individuals create it and Apple distribute it through their App store).

For two good opposing views on what the internet is doing to our brains read the latest books by Clay Shirky and Nicholas Carr.

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