Thursday, August 28, 2008

Definitions and criticism

So Web 2.0, what is it? In one sentence, Web 2.0 is the fruition of interactivity and production online, where the focus or the foundation of online work and play is social production, rather than individual information gathering. As I mentioned in my rationale, it's a term coined by Tim O'Reilly to describe a shift he was seeing in Internet usage, one that he as an entrepreneur wanted (and still wants) to profit from.

One way to differentiate between Web 1.0 and 2.0 that O'Reilly presents in his article "What is Web 2.0" is a list of programs/services that contrast with each other between the two versions of the web. Here are a few examples:

Web 1.0 --> Web 2.0
Ofoto --> Flickr
Britannica Online --> Wikipedia
personal websites --> blogging
content management systems --> wikis

The basic difference between the two being much more interaction between users in Web 2.0 compared to Web 1.0.

One singular example that just clicked for me in the last week is the difference between bookmarking or "adding to favorites" and social bookmarking. Since the browser became available in the mid nineties, we've been able to bookmark web sites to recall later by clicking on the necessary toolbar or button. But they only worked on one computer. If you were at another computer, you couldn't access your bookmarks.

Today, with services like delicious, you can upload bookmarks that are accessible by any computer and can easily be shared with other users.

Here's an image of memes in O'Reilly's article that helped me keep straight the concept:

Some criticize the term and concept, with concerns about the over commercialization of social websites, leading to a lack of "unmarketed space," the exploitation of labor, and the hype surrounding the idea that Web 2.0 is something radically different from Web 1.0, as Tim Berners-Lee, one of the pioneers of the Internet denies. No doubt the criticisms have merit--certainly most any Web 2.0 application can find its antecedents in Web 1.0. However, isn't that the case in any versioning? Firefox 2.0 and 3.0 have many of the same features, but the latter takes the browser to a new level. Might the same be said of Web 2.0? Let's look at a rather longish passage from Kevin Kelly's "We Are the Web":

How could we create so much, so fast, so well? In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone's 10-year plan.

The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.

This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It's there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn't everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.

Why aren't we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone's scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn't enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.

Seems to me that this evolution of the web--from static web pages, documents and images in the mid 90s to the sharing and creating of information, art, ideas, opinions, and so on today presents the crux of the change. Again, I'm not saying much of the social interaction/production didn't take place in the 90s. Listservs, AOL IM, MOOs, AltaVista Forum (early course management software), Amazon and bulletin board reviews--all were vibrant a decade ago. But with the advent and spread of high speed Internet, low cost, powerful laptops and desktops, even cell phones, the interaction between users and production of services has exploded well beyond what most envisioned a decade ago.

And the whole argument concerning exploited labor--people doing stuff online for free rather than being paid to develop (see Scholz )--neglects to consider the drive to create that many hobbies or pastimes fulfill--knitting, woodworking, cooking, photography, painting. Sure, we need to keep an eye open for exploitation and the theft of work by large corporations. But it seems that most of the "free" work being done online is simply because people are having fun making stuff.


Bekah said...

How would you even make someone do work online for free? There are lots of purely online businesses now and some people who even get paid to blog. Plus the amount of money owners of websites like Facebook and myspace are making off of advertisers has got to be a lot.

Also, have you ever checked out, Dad? It's similar to some of the other stuff you were mentioning.

Dan Holt said...

I have played with stumbleupon. It's quite fun.

I don't think Scholz is talking about making people to work online for free, but encouraging them to do so. For example, most of the content--the buildings, items, music, videos and such--on Second Life is not created by the creators of the service, but by the users.

Bekah said...

Oooh, I see what you're saying. But like you said in your post I don't see why that's a problem. People are doing it because they like it, not because they have to. It's creativity.

And yeah stumbleupon is fun. I likes it. You find weird stuff that way.


Bekah said...

And is there a way to copywrite things online, like in print, and prevent them from being stolen?

Dan Holt said...

Short answer--you hold the copyright on stuff you write.

You might, though, check into Creative Commons at