Last week’s FASTforward 07 event, sponsored by FAST Search, was a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in search and the state of our collective efforts to solve the knotty problems associated with finding information. (The escape to San Diego during an East Coast winter freeze was an added bonus.)

Much of the official program covered topics “2.0” — Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Search 2.0, Transformation 2.0, Back Office 2.0. Regular readers know that the Gilbane team generally approaches most things “2.0” with skepticism. In the case of its use as a qualifier for the Web, it’s not that we question the potential value of bringing greater participation to Web-based interactions. Rather, it’s that use of the term causes the needle on our hype-o-meter to zip into the red alert zone. This reaction is further aggravated by the trend towards appending “2.0” to other words, sometimes just to make what’s old seem new again. We note, without comment, that O’Reilly Media’s conference in May has been dubbed Where 2.0.

We listened carefully to the 2.0’s being tossed out like Mardi Gras coins at FASTforward last week. One voice that stood out as a great reality check is that of Andrew McAfee, associate professor at Harvard Business School. In his keynote talk, “Enterprise 2.0: The Next Disrupter,” he presented a definition of Enterprise 2.0:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

The important word in McAfee’s definition is emergent, which is not the same as emerging. McAfee also outlined the ground rules for an enterprise that can legitimately lay claim to the use of the 2.0 qualifier. Read the FASTforward entries on his blog for his own eloquent summary.

In addition to his talk on Enterprise 2.0, McAfee also participated in a lunch presentation on research conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit on executive awareness of Web 2.0 and in a limited-seating roundtable on 2.0 topics. Both are briefly described on his blog.
In short, McAfee’s work is recommended reading for anyone interested in separating 2.0 market hype from potential business value.

Another highlight of FASTforward for us was keynoter Chris Anderson on “The Long Tail” and the application of Long Tail theories to search and content life cycles. By pure happenstance, the Gilbane team shared a limo to the airport with Anderson. In his day job as editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, he and his staff are experiencing significant levels of frustration with the publishing process — specifically, getting content out of a leading professional publishing tool and into the web content management system. While we found his Long Tail talk interesting, the conversation in the limo reminded us that solving some basic business communication problems is still a challenge. It was a thought-provoking way to end the week.

For more on FASTforward ’07, check out our enterprise search blog.