Tim O’Reilly nails the definition for web 2.0. Can we move on please!

Hugh Hutch Carpenter writes a good post that provides some extra explanation of Tim O’Reilly’s definition of web 2.0. Tim’s definition is:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

Tim is a really smart guy. I think it is a really compact and distinctive definition. I also believe that it describes perfectly what businesses or companies can be called web 2.0, and what shouldn’t be called web 2.0.

It made me realise once more that I am not so fond of web 2.0. And this definition points out exacly why I do not like web 2.0 very much. The problem with web 2.0, given it’s definition, is that it is a business or even application driven movement. It talks about applications that improve because people use them. It explains that by having a view that the Internet is a platform, and embracing network effects on that platform, will eventually lead to success.

That sounds great doesn’t it? It could be me, but in my opinion web 2.0 turns things inside out. There is only talk about platforms, business, application and success. It’s a definition created by the very industry that has build it. It accurately describes a movement that has changed the web considerably since version 1.0. But this movement did not address the most important issue at hand. Where did the user go in this? How does the user really benefit from web 2.0?

Web 2.0 has brought the user obviously many advantages. Just take a look at some of the successes Hutch and Tim pointed out. Google, Youtube, Wikipedia, Amazon. All services that have become better and better  because they embraced the network effect of the Internet platform.

I would argue that given the fact that the user and his value are not part of that web 2.0 definition (and it doesn’t really matter that practice created this definition) too much attention is spent on embracing network effects. It has the undesirable effect that the network is more important than the user. And that is precisely why I do not like many aspects of web 2.0.

Web 2.0 in essence is something we, the users, have made possible. Businesses embraced that vision, but the only reason Google is the best search service in the world is because of the Internet population producing content and linking to content. Same thing holds for YouTube or Amazon for that matter.

And we get value in return, as I said. But this vision has provided us 2 problems I feel are not addressed very well by that very same movement:

  1. The value of the network is much more important than the value for it’s individual users
  2. The value of the data in that network is much more important than the value of personal data

The biggest side effect of these problems is that it is nearly impossible now to build and be successful truly User-Centric services. I’ll point out just one flaw and you can figure out the rest (or read earlier posts I wrote on that ;-) ).

The power of web 2.0 prevents us to build adequate privacy services for the user. It is impossible for a user to be in control of his own data as the whole idea behind web 2.0 is that data is the new currency on the web. Data needs to flow freely, but more importantly, web 2.0 services can only be successful if they can hog data from all users. We benefit from this, but most haven’t got a clue to the possible dangers. And it frustrates me that there is NO WAY for me to decide what data can be added to the stream and what data should remain mine. I have no control whatsoever on that. And honestly, it scares me that so few people worry about that.

We embrace web 2.0 as if it is the golden pot at the end of the rainbow. I would argue we need a User-Centric definition instead. Actually, we need User-Centric thinking, developing, and business succcesses that in the end will let us create a definition for a User-Centric web, just as Tim was able to write down that definition of web 2.0 after the movement was started.

Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what Doc Searl and Joe Andrieu have to say about it. I pointe this out in an earlier post called “In  User-Centric Web I get to control my data”:

I like Doc Searls take on this. He calls the developments to open up social networks using FriendConnect and the likes not really open. Instead a federation is created. A federation that lets the user travel around a bit, but he still doesn’t own anything. He isn’t in control of his own data. In other words, a federation isn’t a User Centric Web. Doc Searl points me to this excellent post by Joe Andrieu. Read his post, its really good. A quote that says it all from Joe is:

When we put the user at the center, and make them the point of integration, the entire system becomes simpler, more robust, more scalable, and more useful.

Yesterday Robert Scoble pointed out in a Friendfeed discussion that he wanted to know the difference between someone like myself and Tim O’Reilly:

> abacab actually this is a major problem with social networks. I call it the “friend divide.” If you joined FriendFeed and don’t know the difference between Alexander and, say, Tim O’Reilly, wouldn’t you be at a disadvantage to those who DO know the difference? I think so. And to say there’s no difference is just plain wrong. Attacking people who know the difference and are willing to point it out is also wrong - Robert Scoble

By no means I would be able to compare myself to someone with the experience of Tim O’Reilly. I’m a newby, an unknown in the web 2.0 industry. But I do hope that I can be part of a new era in web evolution. An era that embraces the power of the Internet as a platform. That embraces the power of the network. But also an era that puts the user first in that definition. We might want to call that web 3.0 (it’s catchy isn’t it), although that term has been reserved for yet another platform (sematic web). I prefer to call it the User-Centric web. And if we can get that going, we can also write a definition for it ;-)

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4 Responses to Tim O’Reilly nails the definition for web 2.0. Can we move on please!

  1. Thanks Alexander – nice post. Web 2.0 did give us eBay, which became much better due to network effects. Google Search got better as more people clicked. There’s nothing inherently wrong with leveraging the network.

    BTW – glad to see you’ve returned to my old name “Hugh”. :-p

  2. Hutch, once I remember it wrong I keep doing it wrong. Sorry about that.
    And I obviously agree that network effects gave us good stuff. But we need to deal with the flaws too. And privacy and data control are crucual imo.

  3. Hi Alexander,

    There a movement called the “open social web” that tries to do the thing you write about I think: put the user back in control and let him take his own information (and socialgraph) from site A to B.

    A couple of open standards (openid, oauth, microformats etc.) make such a decentralized “social network” possible.

    There seems to be quite a lot of buzz and support around this movement.

    see also:

    http://www.mindsharing.eu/new/?p=96

    http://opensocialweb.org/

  4. Pingback: To be free we need to break free of web 2.0 thinking « @vanelsas

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