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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Anatomy of Web 2.0: Putting it in Context


I'm going to be writing an overview of Web 2.0 as I see it. For some readers, a lot of what I'll be exploring will be old news, but this is in part a way for me to gain some perspective on the period of history we're living in.

I've been writing extensively on social networking sites recently (list at bottom), and now I'll be changing gears a little, broadening my scope.

The following is highly tentative.

Defining Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is now. It's the time we're living in, and we're all taking part in it. Whereas Web 1.0 a.ka. the dot-com boom was about transitioning elements of the real world into cyberspace and taking the first steps toward an information revolution, Web 2.0 is about personalizing the virtual experience, taming it in a sense. With RSS feeds, learning algorithms deployed to understand what information interests you, memetrackers, and other extensions to simplify and pre-process the enormous flows of information online, a vast number of people and companies are trying to deal with the information problem, extracting signal from noise. This is not as easy as it sounds since what is signal for one person is noise for another.

This second wave of teeming creativity is also characterized by attempts to bring people from around the world together into a social network. These social networking sites purport to allow users to make friends with others in distant places and facilitate the growth of genuine relationships. While they may fails at times in delivering what they promise, these social networks are hubs, attractors for communities to stabilize around. As networks, they become more powerful and attractive as more and more users join. Potential connections between users skyrocket with increasing membership. Users must make the choice whether to join based on certain considerations: stability of the network (Will MySpace go bankrupt in three months?), power of the network (How many users are there?), and other personal factors (Are my friends on Facebook? Is Friendster a cool place to hang out?).

Social networks also serve another purpose: they assign value to objects, whether efficiently or not. One user may be distinguished from another by the number of connections (friends) he or she possesses (Tom of MySpace may be king in that regard). The more links the more valuable the user (Mental note: Make Tom my friend.). Similarly, social bookmarking sites act as collaborative filters in solving the information problem, selecting the wheat from the chaff. The value of a page is dependent on the number of votes it receives whether expressed as votes or number of people saving it. By harnessing a distributed network of users, social bookmarking sites are able to more efficiently search through the potential space of interesting pages.

A third semi-independent platform of Web 2.0 is bringing reality into the virtual world. Reality realized (beta). As social networks approximate the reality of human relationships, VoIP, video sharing sites, and virtual worlds like Second Life allow the higher fidelity sharing of experiences. VoIP lets strangers, who have formed some level of connection, talk to each other. The voice can communicate much more richly than mere text. Video sharing lets users share asymmetrically with the world at large. They are, in part, platforms for self-expression without expectation of response. Perhaps more cathartic and memorable than a text posting on Livejournal or scribbling in a diary. While VoIP and video sharing are firmly planted in Web 2.0, virtual worlds offer a glimpse of Web 3.0. Here, users share the task of building a world to inhabit, each pixel potentially having been freshly coded just seconds ago. And, perhaps, eventually live in full time.

Watch for updates since this post is still highly in flux.

Your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

Related Posts:
The Growth of Social Networking Sites, Redux
Is The Social Networking Market Saturated?
How Sticky Are Social Networks?
Participation Inequality: The New Pareto Principle (90-9-1 Rule)
The Rise of Specialized Social Networks (Plus a Review of SocialPicks)


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