Sunday, October 02, 2005

More on Web 2.0

On the eve of the Web 2.0 conference, Tim O'Reilly delves deeper here on what he means when he talks about Web 2.0 and how it is different to Web 1.0.

Let me try and use an example to make the point regarding Web 2.0, the company i work for this week sent an e-mail to everyone announcing the arrival of our new corporate Portal... realising that all the employees may not know what a 'Portal' is the e-mail continued with a suitable definition of the Portal, of it being a "gateway to your information" and further to that it would be like "My Yahoo" -- Woo! WTF?

Since when has My Yahoo been an authoritative gateway to my information and when has that been personalised to my interests. And here's the problems this so called Portal of ours (that they've spent millions on building). It is SO 1998. aka Web 1.0

Anyway, lets dive down into some of what Tim is saying, he covers a lot, and it really is worth going through it.
Web 1.0 Web 2.0
DoubleClick --> Google AdSense
Ofoto --> Flickr
Akamai --> BitTorrent --> Napster
Britannica Online --> Wikipedia
personal websites --> Blogging
evite --> and EVDB
page views --> cost per click
screen scraping --> web services
publishing --> participation
directories --> tagging ("folksonomy")
stickiness --> syndication

He admits that there is a danger of this becoming very gimmicky with companies marketing similiar types of applications without really understanding the essence of what makes these companies or styles unique. For that let us understand in more detail the essential principles that appear to make Web 2.0 different to Web 1.0

The web as a platform can be highlighted with several examples,

"Google vs. Netscape -- If Netscape was the standard bearer for Web 1.0, Google is most certainly the standard bearer for Web 2.0, if only because their respective IPOs were defining events for each era. So let's start with a comparison of these two companies and their

In many ways, within the context of Web 2.0, Netscape is much closer to say a Microsoft or an Oracle or a SAP or a Lotus. For the reason being that even though Netscpae was different than those others in the same category, they were essentially about selling software products, and their business model was tied to selling shrink-wrapped software products to the Enterprise. Google living out in the internet -- builds software services, with frequent updates, its business model is not at all tied to the enterprise.
"Double Click vs' Google Adsense and Yahoo Overture -- Like Google, DoubleClick is a true child of the internet era. It harnesses software as a service, has a core competency in data management, and, as noted above, was a pioneer in web services long before web services even had a name. However, DoubleClick was ultimately limited by its business model. It bought into the '90s notion that the web was about publishing, not participation; that advertisers, not consumers, ought to call the shots; that size mattered, and that the internet was increasingly being dominated by the top websites as measured by MediaMetrix and other web ad scoring companies. "

Here again we see the differences, subtle, but yet powerfully change the game. DoubleClick believed that the advertiser should be in control and had the power to determine who to advertise to, they falsely focused on the 20% of the largest sites, ignoring the long-tail 80%. Google worked out how to create advertising space to even the smallest website -- in short it scaled downwards as well as upwards, scooping up revenues across the board and with the added benefit of targeting relevant ads.

"Akami vs. BitTorrent -- Like DoubleClick, Akamai is optimized
to do business with the head, not the tail, with the center, not the edges.
While it serves the benefit of the individuals at the edge of the web by
smoothing their access to the high-demand sites at the center, it collects its
revenue from those central sites. "

BitTorrent does treat the Web as a Platform.... but it treats the software as a platform only when its highly connected. That is it relies on the principle of network effects.

"BitTorrent thus demonstrates a key Web 2.0 principle: the service automatically gets better the more people use it. "

Collective Intelligence

"Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web. As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound in to the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users."

I really like what Tim is saying here, who hasn't wondered whether this constant chatter of ideas, drivel, thoughts isn't in some way being modelled and represented digitally through blogs and the internet... are we in the process of discovering meta-models for a global consciousness?

His further examples of Yahoo (with its re-focus on providing a personal content platform for the individual), Google (due respects to the incremental improvements achieved through page ranking -- the inclusion of human opinion in the page ranking weightings), ebay (whose ability to direct buyers and sellers better through the critical mass it has created in its network), Amazon ( who understands the science of user engagement and the ability to generate use interacts flows around the product its sales --? related products -- wish-lists -- Listmania! -- people who bought this also bought....)

Added to this he talks about other companies/services that are harness the network effect of services; Wikipedia (the complete global democratisation of content and information; -- the last bastion of hope to preserve THE truth); Flickr/ (sites that have created collaborative communities through users being able to label pictures and sites based on keywords -- often referred to as labels or "tags" -- this created unusually divergent clusters of communities that may not have been at first obviously identifiable); Cloudmark (Collaborative spam filtering -- no need to have complex software algorithms to determine if something is spam, use a global rating system determined by humans!);

Debatably, Tim says that :

"You can almost make the case that if a site or product relies on advertising to get the word out, it isn't Web 2.0."

I am of course troubled with this, since it reeks of exclusivity, and there is nothing wrong with advertising or marketing something like Orkut, GMail (being opposite examples of this exclusivity), however behind that remark is an important principle, and that reaching a critical mass of collaboration is key to the success of a Web 2.0 application, whilst advertising can help, maintaining such a critical mass is altogether a different ball game (look at friendster today).

"The lesson: Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era."
END of the Software Release Cycle

When Mark Lucovsky (former distinguished engineer at Microsoft NOW working for Google)

I am not sure I believe anymore, that Microsoft "knows how to ship software".

He was of course talking about his frustrations at Microsoft's inability to deploy innovative products out there in a timely fashion... but really this is another important principle that is differentiated with Web 2.0

As i had mentioned
previously, there are key competencies that Web 2.0 company needs to understand that means building a services-oriented operational organisation

"It's no accident that Google's system administration, networking, and load balancing techniques are perhaps even more closely guarded secrets than their search algorithms. Google's success at automating these processes is a key part of their cost advantage over competitors."

Its a 24-7 operation, not just keeping a site up, but listening to users, responding to users, implementing changes. Microsoft has done an exceptional job to reaching out to users, people like Robert Scoble have brought Microsoft into our living rooms.... but you know what? so what if they heard us back in 2003 at the PDC, Microsoft's business model is still built around selling shrink-wrapped software to large enterprises -- listening to users is only one part of it, the second is the rapid ability to respond and deploy that feedback..
Real time monitoring of user behavior to see just which new features are used, and how they are used, thus becomes another required core competency. A web developer at a major online service remarked: "We put up two or three new features on some part of the site every day, and if users don't adopt them, we take them down. If they like them, we roll them out to the entire

Lightweight programming models
A discussion close to my heart... We all know whats going on in the WS-* world... and we know that people in the da big house also know whats going on with WWF and Indigo. We all know one day WS-*/WWF will make our lives easy.

Yet what has clearly defined Web 2.0 has been quite the opposite of all that enterprise wire-gook which we know is important (but which has become confusing as hell due to corporates and standard bodies)

In Summary, as mentioned by
Julian Bond
- RSS , not custom XML schema, Simple XML schema not obfuscated RDF
"This same quest for simplicity can be seen in other "organic" web services. Google's recent release of Google Maps is a case in point. Google Maps' simple AJAX (JavaScript and XML) interface was quickly decrypted by hackers, who then proceeded to remix the data into new services."

Of course the problem with AJAX, is that every f***ing company and product under the sun will become 'AJAX-compliant'. But likewise that does not make it 'Web 2.0'.

Software above the level of a device

Hardware (devices/users) --> Software (devices/PC) --> Services (Internet) --> Content (creators)

In this category there are very few babies that can really claim this, but there are many that would like to compete in this space. Back in the 70's in a very limited way IBM had this with its control of the Software/Operating system and Hardware. And even Microsoft during the 80's/90's managed this to a considerable extent with its OS/API/IBM compatible PCs.

But nothing quite as powerful as demonstrated by the digital distribution ecosystem that Apple has created with iTunes, iTunes Music Store and the iPod. There are many aspects that Apple i think needs to work on (user feedback, rapid improvements to its products/services), but with the recent addition of a Podcasting network, we are seeing the dynamics of this platform changing by enpowering content creators... So whilst today this may be Podcasters.... tomorrow that could become an environment for a new generation of music artists to bypass the music labels.

"To date, iTunes is the best exemplar of this principle. This application seamlessly reaches from the handheld device to a massive web back-end, with the PC acting as a local cache and control station. There have been many previous attempts to bring web content to portable devices, but the iPod/iTunes combination is one of the first such applications designed from the ground up to span multiple devices. TiVo is another good example."

Rich User Experience
No discussion on Web 2.0 and rich user-experience would be complete with a 2.0 discussion on web interface.

We know whats happening with AJAX, and the world can thank Google for Google Mail and Google Maps for showing us this....

But it won't end here, Microsoft with XAML, its declarative HTML-esque language for creating rich-user interfaces that can be deployed on the Window Vista (Windows Presentation Framework) run-time and companies like Laszlo systems (who are building a similar declarative development environment which can generate DHTML and Flash applications) are also having a say on things.

These latter examples, are laudable efforts, buts lets remember the tenet, lowest-common-denominator, i don't think XAML/WPF run-times will become available for Linux or OS X so it makes hard to build those Web 2.0 style services if you limit your audience.

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