Does your company have a clue about Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 and what it can do for business

Even if you don't provide a way for customers and others to converse on your site, you should at least figure out a way to track what they are saying about your organization on other sites, he said.

Tools for enabling user-generated content on your site include wikis and tagging, the latter of which can make searching for information easier. Mulder cited comics publisher Marvel as aggressively supporting user-generated content on its site, even letting them help write the biographies of Captain America and other characters, Wikipedia -style. "Think how much it would cost Marvel to do that on its own," he said. Lego is another company that is heavily into user-generated content, supporting regular contests on its site for those coming up with new creations using the interlocking plastic blocks.

More and more, organizations are essentially building platforms or "containers" within their Web sites that let users generate content the organization might never have dreamed up, Mulder said. For that reason, companies need to build Web sites in a flexible way, he said. (He pointed to Flickr, which started off as a game and surprisingly grew into a photo-sharing site that Yahoo now owns.)

Of course, such openness can have its downsides, such as when Chevrolet encouraged customers to make their own video ads for the Tahoe, and some were less than flattering. A Chevrolet general manager concluded that censoring content was a no-win situation and that even the negative ads at least got people talking about the car. "You have to ask yourself, to what degree are you ready to let go?" Mulder said.

This includes how available you want to make APIs, as companies such as Amazon have done, said La Rosa, Molecular's principal consultant of engineering.

The reality is that companies have less and less control over how people will use their sites, La Rosa said, citing tools that let readers strip out ads while viewing The New York Times Web site, for example. Companies need to figure out to what extent they want to support user-generated mashups and to create their own, he said.

Organizations also need to keep pushing ahead on richer interfaces to their Web sites, using such technologies as Flash and Asynchronous JavaScript + XML where appropriate. The Molecular consultants showed examples of Web sites that make it easier for customers to walk through a checkout process, for example, in which they essentially stay on the same screen rather than having to click arrows to go forward or backward.

The bottom line is that Web sites are becoming less like static places and more like applications that can be manipulated, La Rosa said.

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