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Supporting Web 2.0 Projects August 17, 2007

Posted by ficial in brain dump, web 2.0.
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I was recently asked for my thoughts about how web 2.0 has changed the way IT support projects, specifically with the idea that web 2.0 tools required no infrastructure support on the part of the institution. I can see somewhat where that’s coming from – if the college is pushing Facebook, Flickr, Swivel, Slideshare, Blogspot, etc. then those are all products that are a) free and b) available online without the college having to do anything. In that case the support would be oriented more towards helping people understand and use those tools rather than making sure the underlying technology was working.

However, that’s an artifact of the business models behind those companies and the college’s choice to use those particular products. The shift away from infrastructure is driven more by high level decisions to outsource rather than anything inherent to web 2.0 technologies. The fact that many web 2.0 businesses provide technology support for cheap or free makes that decision to outsource more common for web 2.0 projects. In our case we decided to install and support our own wiki, blogs, and CMS. We certainly could have outsourced that (either for pay or for free), but decided against it for reasons largely related to privacy, control, and functionality.

At institutions more financially constrained I would expect to see much more of a shift. For a functionality of a certain level the options originally were:
1) build and support it in house – lots of resources, a small amount of cash
2) buy it and support it in house – some resources, some cash
3) totally outsource it – few resources, lots of cash (loss of control)

As IT skills became more wide-spread in society there arose two more ommon options:
4) use open source – lots and lots of resources, no cash at all
5) use share/free ware – some to few resources, low/no cash, but a big sacrifice in functionality

Number two is probably the most common option, or number three for projects where the loss of control is acceptable. Number five would be the preferred option if the loss in functionality were acceptable. In the past it usually has not been. The big change in the web 2.0 world is that for option five the loss in functionality is quite small.

Ten years ago the freeware version of a product might have 20% the functionality of the corporate one. Today in the web 2.0 world the free version of the product probably has at least 90% of the functionality and requires very few in house resources (for basic support). Institutions with more financial constraints (i.e. almost everyone) seem likely to decide that the 10% loss in functionality is acceptable given the large savings it provides (or rather, the ability to do more with the same amount of cash and resources). At institutions with lots of money and resources and extremely high standards that 10% loss in functionality would be unacceptable, and so such institutions wouldn’t see much in the way of change when implementing/supporting web 2.0 projects.

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