My thoughts on what is Web 2.0

So I’m reading Tim O’Reilly’s What Is Web 2.0 ( and this is what I’ve got out of it. O’Reilly believes (or believed a few years ago – remember this is an article posted in late 2005) Web 2.0 is a set of principles and practices which will be elaborated on a little further into this.

He also believed Web 2.0 was all about the platform and that it’s focused on usage base services. I can agree with this – look at Facebook for one: free service connecting friends, family and fans. Amazingly popular.

I don’t agree with the “long tail” theory though – the bulk of the information is not in the small sites but is mainly held at the large sites. Your google, facebook, flikr’s, tumblr -these are the websites people visit daily – not the blogs. These sites have become aggregators of content with hooks on them: they bring in the content “shared” and let you go out to visit those sites, only to be pulled back in with a web frame “do you want to return to facebook… etc.” Yes, yes I do. It’s a symbiotic relationship but the power is most definitely weighted in favour of the aggregator, not the content owner.

The service automatically gets better the more people use it – completely agree (as long as the load balancers are working). Harnessing that collective intelligence is where the power lies. The truth could be said about this course I’m in right now – have one lecturer place a document on a projected screen and you’ve got some power, but allow that document to be edited in real-time by everyone in the theatre – now that’s something (it might not be productive, but it’s something).

O’Reilly then goes on to talk about the power of blogging – specifically the format (chronologous) and the power of RSS (websites, you love, direct to you). He also remarks on the power of the permalink in directing people to specific parts of a blog. This functionality appears native to me so I’m not that astouned by its importance. The next step is obviously permalink shortening services (tinurl etc). These took the power of permalinks, made them conveniently short (or descriptive) and created a whole new level of content direction.

There’s also brief mention of trackbacks and their ability to spark conversation. O’Reilly mentions that trackbacks aren’t truly two-way, that they are -at their best position -synchronous one-way. I’d say more asynchronous, specifically when looked at from those massive agreggators. They’re the sites sending people out to the content and using those trackbacks to bring them back in. Almost like a content try-before-you-buy – just go from one link to the next.

He then has a large spiel about maps and the various services which in 2005 didn’t see Google Maps coming fast around the corner. Then O’Rielly points out that the classes of core data link location and identity are where the value is and those service who control those banks of data, and therefore the access to that data are the real powerbrokers of Web 2.0. There’s also then a prediction about a Free Data movement much in the same vein as the open source Free Software movement. Well we haven’t really seen that yet. There have been privacy concerns, ad display concerns, loss of credit card details and other personal information but all in all people are still on the whole alright with these mammoth service providers holding all their information. Well that’s how it appears to me.

O’Rielly then goes on to focus on how the operational aspect of a Web 2.0 service is key and core to any value creation. That there is no versioning online – you are in the perpetual beta; fair call, I can see a much different service than what my friend halfway around the world sees.  They may have different functionality but they both deliver value as we can still use them for their intended operations. The versions don’t count.

The next point goes on to talking about the importance of lightweight programming languages (which to be honest appears to go against the whole grain of the rest of the article). I mean, I thought Web 2.0 was all about not focusing on the technology but bringing focus back to operations, services, crowadsourcing, the collective, folksonomy – all that good stuff. Why does it matter what language I code in? Because otherwise people won’t be able to easily collaborate with me? They won’t use my content – my data? My value will be diminished if the ports are too hard to move through? Oh, I see. So technology does matter.

Mobility comes next – this is nothing new (for 2012) so I’m not going to criticise this or regurgitate it any further. We all know that if you’ve got a service you need to make it accessible on every. Single. Platform. Simple.

More technology focused principles then come forth – O’Reilly starts waxing lyrical about the importance of AJAX (fair enough, not a technology by singular definition but a group of technologies implemented in a certain way – close enough) Javascript, and XML . This again makes me come back to my point: you can’t say Web 2.0 is completely absent of technology-based catalysts. It is the way we use our technology that enables us to create those services people use and collobarate with. Without the tech, the foundation of your service, you won’t have a leg to stand on.

Overall I do agree with 7-year old O’Rielly writings in part; but the fact that there’s a glaringly obvious desire to put Web 2.0 in a nice little cloud of principles and practices and ways of thinking – it just can’t happen that way. It’s all built on technology and without the correct mastery and implementation of those technologies your ways of thinking won’t get off the ground. Knowledge isn’t power; knowledge and action is power