What’s all this Web 2.0 nonsense about?
I give it about another three years before the term “Web 2.0” is nearly meaningless. It’s already at the “powerful buzzword” phase, which means it’s probably just about cresting before heading screaming downhill. That’s not to say that it won’t enjoy a few more years of increasing media hype and buzzword-compliance. It’s just taking off in those regards. It won’t be long before anything worth learning from the term and the phenomenon it attempts to label is behind us, though.
It’s amusing that we’re already at this point, and people are still trying to define it. For the most part, people don’t know what it is. There are quite a few who think they know what it means, but they represent maybe 2% of the people who’ve heard the term. There are people who really know what it means, but they represent maybe 2% of the people who think they know what it means. Of them, probably 2% can articulate what they know, putting it into words that accurately reflect that knowledge.
I, of course, claim to be one of these lucky/thoughtful/informed elite. While there may be many definitions of what makes up Web 2.0 that are accurate (probably one for every person that can come up with an accurate definition — two, in some cases), that doesn’t make any of them less accurate. Part of the problem of trying to define it in words, of course, is the fact that to be accurate, it must encompass what’s valuable about the phenomenon. Most people, when they set out to define it, never really realize that fact (consciously, at least). Instead, they set out to define it by describing it in terms of epiphenomena, of symptoms, and of weird behaviors. I’ll take a whack at explaining my take on what’s valuable about the Web 2.0 phenomenon.
This whole Web 2.0 thing is built around the goal of filtering for value via organic, self-regulating processes. It’s marketing and content aggregation and presentation and interactivity that leverages fundamental economic laws of competition and (especially) cooperation to make stuff better and more appealing. The core of this is tied up in the following ideas:
- Content is king.
- The customer is always right (in the aggregate).
- Doing the daily work of finding good content is, itself, content.
- Naturally self-sustaining systems work better (naturally).
- People respond best when they have a personal stake.
- People trust word of mouth, not marketing.
In other words, you’ll do best if you focus on content (even if it’s not your own content), generate content about content, involve the customer base in product development, and make use of the desires of the customer base to create a system that runs itself. It’s a reapplication of the same principles that make open source software development and Wikipedia work. The best blogs and blogging communities have been using this stuff since the late ’90s. It’s free market capitalism with information as its currency and its primary commodity. You can be most successful within this paradigm of digitally connected society by facilitating what people want to do anyway, and unobtrusively reaping benefits from their activities — not by trying to coerce or trick people into giving you money to be able to do it, since they’ll just find a way to do it without you.
Linking to others is a good thing within this realm of interaction: it’s a good thing for both the linker and the linkee. You can encourage more people to link to you by supporting trackbacks and pingbacks, both of which aid you by letting you know who’s talking about you, and by directing people to related websites, thus increasing those other websites’ search engine rankings, which in turn increases yours via the links. It also helps them, because they get links back automatically. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a significant part of every day parsing webserver logs by eye to make it happen. It’s automatic, creates cooperative social effects, and helps link related materials to each other which is beneficial to the reader — your customer base (even if you’re not making any money off them).
It must seem counterintuitive to traditional, corporate businessmen, this notion that success comes from helping your competitors. It works, though. It works brilliantly.
The traditional approach is of course to monopolize the market, consolidate power under your own thumb, shut others out, and willfully hurt the competition. It assumes a set of axioms that leads one to expend all energy in “winning” by making everyone else lose. It’s based on a zero-sum game model of economics, which is in fact antithetical to a truly free market — thus supporting my long-standing and oft-repeated thesis regarding the incompatibility of corporatism and free market capitalism. Corporations only survive by shutting out the little guy because, all else being equal, the agility and innovation of the little guys will obsolesce the big lumbering corporate giants in a New York minute.
Cooperative capitalism works, though. The guy who wins is the most (effectively) cooperative. The only fly in the ointment is the incursion of corporate interests and legislation into the otherwise free market domain: while such influences haven’t much hope of affecting the evolving socioeconomic system of Web culture in the short term, they do tend to produce small-scale unexpected and paradoxical results. To the extent that corporatism and governmental interference (kind of redundant, since corporatism is a result of governmental interference) affect an otherwise free market system, that system loses benefits of the liberty of its market environment. Luckily for us, the Internet was originally designed to route around, and organically “repair”, damage to its infrastructure — and this limited physical infrastructure independence of the network has contributed to a limited sociopolitical infrastructure independence as well. It’s going to be a long, hard slog for government and Microsoft to get its hooks into the Web enough to do any real damage to it in the aggregate.
Unluckily for us, the efforts to make that sort of thing happen are increasing in focus, energy, and (analogously) murderous intent. Notice what’s going on in Congress (“net neutrality” legislation is just more government interference), in business (software patents and efforts to restrict the growth of the open source software community are the real danger to net neutrality), and in world politics (the UN wants to take charge of the Internet — the same organization that elected Libya to chairmanship of its Human Rights Commission and thinks that human rights are best served by declaring the US a “rogue nation” for its refusal to violate its own Bill of Rights on key issues). We, as the liberty-minded citizens of the World Wide Web, have the advantage, but we have powerful enemies.
The term Web 2.0 is really just a bit more buzzwordism, but it is used to label something that is, in concept, the application of all the principles of both effective cooperation and liberty to digital network media. Understand it and use it to your own (long-term) benefit, with integrity, honesty, and an eye toward going with its flow rather than attempting to manipulate it to your own ends: that will serve you best, if you’re at all competent, and will likely prove the best weapon against destroying any value the Web has by catering to governmental and corporate interests.
Ironically, there’s nothing to ping for trackbacks or pingbacks in this SOB entry. Go fig.