Web 2.0 has brought democracy, but it comes at a cost

I read a few different posts this morning and they inspired me for this one. First there was a post by Betsy Schiffman writing about the Web 2.0 Expo. She writes:

Now that the first burst of enthusiasm for social networking has died, people are realizing that web 2.0 is actually a huge time sink.

Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Plaxo may have helped foster community and communication, but they’ve also added immensely to the flow of often-interruptive messages that their users receive, leading to information overload and possibly a nasty internet addiction.

To underline this argument she uses a picture that I have used myself a few times already, but in a different context.Web 2.0 logos

This is a set of logos of web 2.0 services, you can find many more of them here.

Another post that drew my attention was one by my favorite Pattern Houd, Rolf Skyberg. He writes about the principles of design and challenges us to rethink the way user interfaces are designed:

Is the ease with which we copy-paste both elements and information, forgetting the necessary influences of natural growth, decay, and selection?

If we forced ourselves to design only with pen and paper, would it necessarily create a more understandable interface? Pushing complexity away from the user, exactly where it should be?

Try this experiment for yourself, either in your next design, or your next powerpoint.

If you aren’t willing to take the time to draw each one of those fields and links, I can guarantee that your users don’t want to fill them in.

And he tops it off with a link to a cartoon that says it all.

What do these two posts have in common? To me they address a similar theme, using different approaches. Web 2.0 has brought democracy to web development. Underlying the web 2.0 developments lies a technology wave that has brought us near-zero service development cost. Anyone with an idea (it doesn’t have to be good) can become a web entrepreneur and build that idea into a tool. Anyone can launch that tool without distribution costs and use blogging platforms and social networks to make potential users notice the newly developed service. Anyone can affort to launch a Beta or concept service that isn’t finished because it can then be further developed with the user community. Anyone can build a service and forget about scalability, because it can always be done afterwards. Anyone can follow the ‘American’ dream and hopefully become successful and rich.

There is a clear upside to this democracy process. The speed of development and innovation is higher than ever. New ideas are born every day, but now new ideas can be materialized in the same tempo as they are conceived. There is also a downside to this. Lowering the thresholds to create new services doesn’t make the process of creating a great service ANY easier. If anything, the image above shows that clearly. There are literally thousands of “web 2.0” services and brands out there. The web 2.0 wave is fragmented into uncountable small, niche, often cloned services. While Betsy talks about the information overload pressure on the user, I would say that the pressure is mostly on the web entrepreneur trying to get his niche ahead of the rest of the pack.

What strikes me most about it is that we tend to forget that building a great service, a great brand, the best usability, is actually all about craftsmanship. It isn’t a craft we all possess just because the technology has lowered the thresholds. Just because I can on-line create and edit images for free and with a few clicks it doesn’t make me a good designer. I can use Ruby on rails and have a web application up and running within the hour. But that doesn’t make me a great programmer or architect. I can easily come up with a web 2.0 brand name, just look at the web 2.0 directory. But that doesn’t make me a brand expert or a brand marketeer. And with the customer running around, constantly trying things out (hey it’s all free right), getting confused or bored easily, making something useful, actually creating user value is incredibly difficult.

Web 2.0 has brought us entrepreneurship and web development for all. But it doesn’t bring us craftsmanship. You either have it, or you don’t. But I know one thing. If you are thinking about becoming the next Facebook, Google, MySpace or whatever, begin your quest with finding talented people. It always starts there. Don’t be fooled by the ease of web development and distribution. Find talented people and create something that is designed, developed, implemented, branded and distributed with user value in mind. That will be the sured way to success.


About vanelsas

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This entry was posted in Rolf Skyberg, UI Design, user centric innovation, web 2.0 EXPO 2008 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Web 2.0 has brought democracy, but it comes at a cost

  1. Frederic says:

    Very interesting post and I mostly agree with you, though we could nitpick over the craftsmanship issue you bring up in the last paragraph (I think you can actually learn craftsmanship and the plethora of new services really gives people the chance to hone their craft).

    But you’re general point is a very good one – it’s the whole package that makes services succeed and stand out from the masses.

    Still, I love this current wave of new apps and the fact that developers can get ideas out to users quickly – lots of apps might be horrible, but now and then, something really terrific can come out of this process as well (Twitter might be an example of such an accidental success).

  2. Rohit says:

    I really think whether u succeed or not depends on a few basic things : ease of use (twitter,pownce), utility, clean interfaces(facebook),good content (which comes frm ppl who signup for them in the first place) and above all interoperability…

  3. @frederic You are right that craftsmanship can be learned up to a certain point. I could take lessons from the best painter in the world. That might make me a better painter than I am now. But I won’t be a Dutch Master, ever 😉
    @Rohit, good points!

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