Thursday, March 30, 2006

Web 2.0 is a State of Mind

Every now and again Memeorandum points me to an exceptional post. I generally dislike the echo chamber it creates, but it is one of the better filters for the attention strapped among us. Still, I have read so many tales of woe concerning what Web 2.0 means over the past 6 months, I almost skipped this piece from Paul Boutin on Slate since it is getting so tiring.

With my silicon valley influenced perspective (and a lot of pent up frustration with some engineers I have known) I decided we should move beyond Web 2.0 and on to Web 2.1. To move away from the technology focus for the sake of the technology to put people back in the center of our lens. A couple of months ago, I was finally able to put forth a model that I could use to explain my perspective to those outside the meme - the Human Centered Web.

As I have been explaining to friends, acquaintances and anyone who will listen, Web 2.0 is like the proverbial elephant and the 3 blind men. Each one is describing a different aspect of it, each one is right in their own limited view but each one is missing the bigger picture. As with most complex ideas, people need short hand phrases to capture the essence of it, without getting into all the messy details. Of course, this causes confusion from people who can not quickly grasp the bigger picture and are being informed by only one of the perspectives. This is why I am generally OK with the use of the term, though I detest how it has been used and misused.

In his piece on Slate, Paul references three general definitions that are bantered about by different groups of people. The O'Reilly definition that focuses on participation and collaboration; the Web developers perspective on Ajax interfaces; and the opportunists play of making a company from user generated content. Hmmm. I like O'Reillys definition, but it is overly complicated to explain to lay people. The other definitions don't play well either. So what really matters to the non-technical majority of society in this discussion?

Well, I think NewsWeek got it mostly right, which is really good news. It is definitely about the collective wisdom and participation, but I think it is above all else a new era in society, a new spirit of possibility and a resurgence of optimism from which great new companies and ways of thinking are being formed. Web 2.0 is shorthand for representing this new state of mind above all else.

When we take a closer look at what constitutes its physical (or rather virtual) manifestation, there are really 3 primary elements that should be explained to the uninitiated (and AJAX is not among them).

  • The Live Web - As NewsWeek focused on Mary Hodder's quote, this is a key descriptor of one portion of this era. It references the immediacy of the ability to create and contribute in near real time to the collective wisdom and to a lesser degree certain aspects of living online.

  • The Social Web - This was an underlying element of the NewsWeek piece and referenced often through examples in the Slate piece, but it deserves to be called out separately. This references the network's awareness of our social relationships as well as the fact we are able to organize our social lives and engage one another socially.

  • The Open Web - Again, this was referenced but not called out by name. In stark contrast to the proprietary standards that marked the launch of the PC industry and the early Web days, we have established key standards in many areas that enable any person or company to create systems that easily interoperate with other systems. The Open Web is not just about published API's and open standards though, it is also the key element of the state of mind that permeates this new era. While it is not something that the majority of society will focus on, people need to understand that this means freedom from the clutches of any single corporation and lowered overall costs for whatever people want to do.


So Web 2.0 is above all else a state of mind that is based on the World Wide Web being live, open and social.



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