Pros and Cons of Emergence

October 17, 2007 · · Posted by Jordan Frank

Jim McGee did an excellent job in The Problem of Emergence of wrapping up our coffee talk with Jack Vinson on the pros and cons of emergence when adapting Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0. The simple fact is that Enterprise 2.0 is different from Web 2.0, and because of that, these differences have to be accounted for in the technologies implemented and in support of the adoption process.

The concept of emergence comes in response to the unreasonable Enterprise 1.0 constraints of pre-conceived, rigid enterprise systems built, generally, for process control.

At the other end of the spectrum, Jim says "In designing a system for emergence, the designers leave a number of these decisions open; waiting for users to fill in the blanks. So, for example, instead of locking down a taxonomy for categorizing documents, the designers might provide a tagging system to allow a folksonomy to emerge from the idiosyncratic choices of each user."

The problem with full fledged emergence, in Jim's words, is "You want the energy and creative outcomes that can come from a successful emergent approach, but you can’t simply rely on unaided market forces to fuel the process."

On the web, many social networking sites have launched and failed, millions of blogs have emerged and seen little traffic. Beyond emergence, some mix of good marketing strategy, PR, timing and money contribute the the success of sites like Flickr, Facebook, Wikipedia and LinkedIn.

Taken to the enterprise, it's necessary to acknowledge the realities of the success and failures of Web 2.0, as well as factors specific to the enterprise realities. In the body of his post, McGee suggests three essential ingredients:

  1. A marketing plan to introduce the technology and how it may be used.
  2. Appropriate scaffolding and careful seeding of content... an empty tagging system will prove too much of a blank slate for users more accustomed to the structures of conventional systems.
  3. Coaching and mentoring on how to use selected technologies to accomplish their goals. This coaching would focus on working out strategies for how to use the technology to accomplish specific business and organizational goals.

The second point is the crux of my reasoning in The Yin and Yang of Enterprise 2.0. The Yin/Yang post suggests a marriage between the Yin of Coordinated Collaboration (structure, perhaps in the form of a tag template for new wikis) and the Yang of Collaborative Creativity (emergence, allowing users the freedom to create tags and build out the organization of the space over time).

Web 2.0 models are necessarily emergent as there is little opportunity for planning and coordination. However, the formalized structures such as those described in Best Practice and the Wikipedia Big Brain cannot be ignored. As McGee says, Web 2.0 models benefit from the openness and scale of the web as a whole.

Enterprises are limited in scale as compared to the web, but can benefit quickly by establishing best practices, tag templates, and patterned use cases which make it easier for users to adopt the technology and to get traction quickly as they move between wiki and blog spaces to perform their regular communication and content management activities. Detailed taxonomies are too rigid, but enterprises will benefit readily by synchronizing tags between wikis and blogs. One simple example might be agreeing on the tag "Status" vs. leaving users to the task of creating an array of similar tags like "Status" and "Update"

Given appropriate scaffolding, software interface elements such as those described in Making Wikis Work in Business - Leading Users to Water can help to nudge late adopters in the right direction.

If you want to be successful in Enterprise 2.0 efforts, as with any effort, there is no harm in using all the resources available; from technology to training, coaching, internal marketing and process suggestions; to your advantage. Depending on your mix of internal culture, user skill and existing infrastructure, the right mix of emergence and planned or suggested structure is one key factor.

Page Top