Monday, March 6

My take on defining "Web 2.0"

Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine over the definition of Web 2.0. We ended up talking about all sorts of characteristics of technologies (like seen in Tim O'Reilly's article, "What is Web 2.0?") which included web services rather than installed software, dynamic interfaces (AJAX) rather than static web pages that page through (like a Powerpoint presentation), Open Source development versus proprietary development, or distributed ownership of content versus centralized.

To me, Web 2.0 is more of a philosophy in terms of how work is accomplished - much like I read from Amy Gahran's blog post:

"Here’s the thing: Web 2.0 is an extension of the very old concept of collective creativity. That is: People who work to develop something together – especially if they’re collaborating with a spirit of play or individual exploration – end up creating collective value which far exceeds anything that could have been consciously planned, outlined, and “released.” It’s a process of organic growth.

This is how languages, art forms, and architectural styles develop. It’s the treasure of derivative “remix” culture. It’s blurring the line between developers and users.

No matter how much of a loner you think you are, you rely on other people’s insight and efforts every day to form your opinions, make decisions, and choose actions. This process is largely unconscious. It’s just how the human mind works. We have developed fairly advanced mental skills and external tools for storing, recalling, and communicating information because we think better in concert."

This is what I have discussed in the past - and what I teach now in classes - the goal of collaboration to the benefit of all. Rather than the individual contributor - the additive growth of other's feedback and transparency of the determination of truth leads to better solutions. Importantly, the incentivizations are in place to reward improvement (think of how Linux improves through contributions of others) - which allows for a "positive gradient" - or toward the optimal solution.

When we discuss Web 2.0 - I think it is better to discuss it as a "philosophy" rather than any specific "technology". flickr,, TypePad, myspace, tagworld - all of these companies are following the model demonstrated by the philosophy - and thus giving users the ability to help improve the product as they go forward.

Knowledge Gets Its Own Speed-Up
Back when Netscape launched in 1994-95, I remember how people would comment on how Netscape changed the software development model - because they connected to the developer community and had almost instantaneous feedback to improve their product and allow for development cycles to shrink from eighteen months to something along the lines of a quarter. But data and centralized ownership of knowledge (like the Muze music database) still was restricted. There were services like CDDB that went against the model - as you burned your own CDs or played them on players connected to the Internet, but the thrill of IPO riches converted even this altrustic effort into a "crown jewel" and soured the model.

Now, Web 2.0 drives information toward the concept of community/collective intelligence - and proprietary data becomes the seed crystal, but eventually becomes overwhelmed by the greater knowledge of the community. Look at the success of, flickr and other folksonomy spaces have generated greater benefit for the users - and improved the database - that is open to all. This follows the "philosophy" of Web 2.0...

Tags: AJAX Web 2.0 flickr

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