Quite rightly, there has been a lot of talk recently about the need for businesses to understand the harder business benefits of Web 2.0 and the impact that new features and tools can have on the bottom line.

However, the man who has steered Guardian Unlimited to numerous awards (and profitability) stresses the inherent value of online innovation for a brand which is expected to be pioneering.  

In an interview with E-consultancy published today, Simon Waldman, the Guardian Media Group’s director of digital publishing, talks about an experimental, wait-and-see approach which has paid dividends. 

He says: “Our core economic value is in generating advertising revenue, but there is so much happening structurally around the way that content is created and put together at the moment that you need to introduce these elements at the first opportunity on to your site so you can learn how they might be of value.”

The Guardian’s continued faith in its online newspaper through the internet’s lean years has proved justified and it is clear that they are intent on adopting a similarly committed approach moving forward.

It has certainly helped the Guardian that it is overseen and protected by the Scott Trust which encourages its staff to think that the promulgation of its editorial and brand values are just as important – if not more important – than profitability.

They have the kind of culture which has allowed their vision of a global online brand to become a reality, fuelled by the innovate use of Web 2.0 features such as podcasting and blogging. Guardian Unlimited has been identified as the UK newspaper Web 2.0 leader.

Unfortunately however, the GU suck-it-and-see approach is not necessarily a template for other organisations when they are wrestling with shorter-term shareholder expectations.

While the latest online features and clever use of Ajax technology are becoming de rigeur for portals and wannabe Web 2.0 ventures, our experience suggests that most businesses are operating at a more cautious level.

They want a clear idea about how different constituent parts of this thing called Web 2.0 are going to improve their business results.

It’s a question of breaking up Web 2.0 and understanding how it can help you. See Gareth Knight’s ‘it’s not all about social software’ post (and some useful comments) for more information on this.

Even for start-ups, where cutting-edge functionality and features are often their key USP, a business plan is crucial because not everyone can hope they go viral and get acquired without any clear revenue streams. Chris Lake, E-consultancy’s editor, has talked about this previously.

While most of us can operate at a more prosaic level, it’s up to the Microsofts, Yahoos and Google’s of this world – and indeed the Guardians – to invest most heavily in what Gareth describes as the ‘feature-driven arms race’.