What businesses can learn from consumer technogy

The consumer market has long been a proving ground for technologies that later give enterprises a competitive edge - and Web 2.0 is the same

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Today's corporate end-users are far more tech-savvy than their productivity with IT tools indicates. After all, screen-deep in instant messages, widgets and elaborate consumer web applications, they are proving themselves well-versed in the production and distribution of content as facilitated by the consumer Web 2.0 craze.

Yet to tap this hidden expertise in an enterprise setting requires a deeper understanding of what draws end-users to these technologies and how they are reshaping end-users' technological expectations in the workplace.

It is with this proposition in mind that we take a look at a bevy of consumer technology winners -- and one high-profile dud -- in an effort to help IT departments capitalise on the rise of Web 2.0 among consumers. After all, the consumer market has long been a proving and training ground for technologies that later hone the enterprise's competitive edge.

So take a tip from these seemingly lowbrow technologies, tap the interests and acumen your end-users are developing, and put the consumer-tech proving ground to work to create a more collaborative and productive enterprise.

YouTube

When YouTube was founded in February 2005, few thought it would work. Video delivery on the web was spotty, and previous video-sharing sites had failed miserably. Yet 20 months later, when Google bought YouTube for $1.6bn (£800m), the site was a household name, serving more than 100m clips a day.

Enterprises developing web-based applications, especially those aimed at culling content from end-users, would be wise to take a cue from YouTube's success. Not only has the site bucked convention by not forcing viewers to watch adverts before each clip, it has also tapped the Flash Player format, enabling clips to roll right away without launching a separate player. Respecting users' time does more than just increase productivity; it ensures they will return to your app, time and again -- vital when the tool's purpose is to tap users for contributions and maximise the impact and reach of their knowledge.

Furthermore, YouTube has not been picky about upload formats, encouraging a wide range of contributions, from grainy cell phone clips to high-end digital productions. Also essential to stoking a critical mass of content, YouTube deftly combined the masses' desire for self-expression with semipro content such as the early hit "The Evolution of Dance," uploaded by an established performer.

Enterprises building collaboration portals or knowledge management systems would do well to emulate YouTube not only by encouraging contributions with as few restrictions as possible but also by actively reaching out to key early adopters to prime the pump. Once the content gets rolling, give users multiple, easy ways to navigate -- including relevancy gauges such as number of previous views -- to help them make the most of it.

But before you pack your portal with functionality, take note. YouTube also shows the importance of a simple focus. Despite the temptation to keep adding features, focus can drive usage, while clutter often dampens it.

-- David L. Margulius

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