partial recall

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Egocentrically Altruistic Web 2.0


John Battelle recently asked readers to come up with a tagline for the next Web 2.0 conference. This will be the third such conference.

Year One included the tagline “The Web Is a Platform” to which Battelle remarks,

“That felt spot on, because the idea of the web as a place you could build on the work of others was a pretty new idea.”

Year Two included the tagline “Revving the Web” to which Battelle remarks,

“…because it was all about the services and businesses and opportunities that arose from the Web – all of which taken together made the web more robust and more exciting.”

For November’s conference, Battelle suggests the tagline “Disruption” by indicating,

“…the year the Web – in all its forms – really flexes its muscle and begins to seriously turn the soil of the global economy in deep and permanent ways. Think of the disruptions in the media and entertainment industries – probably the deepest disruptions so far. But we’re only in the first inning or so of the disruptions in the mobile and communications space (how excited do YOU think AT&T is about Google offering free Wifi, for example? Or eBay buying Skype?). And the disruptions of search and clickstreams on commerce is only now beginning, and the same is true for the massive IT industry (Microsoft Live, anyone?). And the disruption on our cultural life – in government, for example (can you say warrantless wiretaps meets the Database of Intentions?) – is only beginning to dawn on all of us.”

I’m not sure I follow Battelle’s logic here. “Disruption” is just another name for change, and the technology industry, which affects other industries like media and communications, only survives through innovation. I do understand that some industries are grounded in consistency rather than innovation, but for every example of IT companies becoming more immersed in other industries (i.e., Google offering WiFi, eBay buys Skype, Yahoo streaming television content), there are examples of these industries embracing IT (i.e., Verizon offering integrated internet, television, telephony,etc. services) . I’ve even seen telephone companies now offer VoIP so that they are offering more than one service.

Certainly Web 2.0 may be disruptive to some companies from some industries, but what about the consumers? Are they disrupted by the new technologies and philosophies that have emerged as a result of the Web 2.0 dialogue? I do not think so. Web 2.0 cannot be just about how it affects industry and commerce but how it affects the end user, and part of what makes Web 2.0 the current buzz is because as the web becomes more social, so too it becomes more universal and needs to become more usable. Usability is much more critical when we focus not on the needs of a target audience, but on the universal web population.

Last September, Tim O’Reilly fleshed out his definition of what Web 2.0 really is. The focus covered both the economic implications and the social components that seem to define this concept. I’ve tried to respond to John by suggesting that the next conference include a tagline inspired by one of my following contributions:

  • “Web 2.0 – Egocentrically Altruistic”
  • “Web 2.0 – Egocentrically Altruistic Web for the World”
  • “Web 2.0 – Findable, Usable, Portable and Universal”

Egocentrism and Altruism

You see, I am noticing that Web 2.0 encapsulates both egocentric needs and altruistic ones. Thomas Vander Wal discusses Web 2.0 and concludes his post by referring to a recurring theme he has been evangelizing:

“In this past year I frame the need for it as a change from the “I go get web” to the “Come to me web”

Thomas points to some of the egocentric components of Web 2.0. The internet is becoming more portable and personal – customizable portals, RSS feeds, rich interfaces and the like draw people because they can make their Internet experience their own. This is the lure from companies who are offering free services to customers – offer a rich personalized experience to draw people to sites driven by advertizing revenue.

But Web 2.0 is also defined by its altruistic qualities. The other side of the coin that is offering free personalized services for intended revenue is that the software and web developers tend to embrace the credo of making the world better – that means some are offering services for free out of an altruistic spirit (okay, so some hope to make it big and get bought out by Yahoo or some other IT conglomerate). We are currently seeing an explosion in collaborative and social web services. The altruism that partially defines the Web 2.0 generation is that the web collective seeks to help and connect with each other.

One of the outcroppings of Web 2.0 has been that of organizing information for easy retrieval – concepts including information architecture, findability, oncology, taxonomy, and folksonomy have become en vogue. Folksonomy, in particular, has intrigued me because it encapsulates both the egocentrism and altruism components that appear to define Web 2.o. Thomas Vander Wal explains that “in short a folksonomy is a set of uncontrolled tags provided by individuals for their own retrieval purposes of that object and these tags are shared publicly.” Therefore, although Thomas appears to focus on the egocentric components of folksonomy, I would argue that there is both an egocentric component (tagging for myself) as well as an altruistic one (I’ll share my tags for others and see). This is Web 2.0 in a nutshell. Yes, from an economic perspective, the outcropping of technologies and services is for revenue, but Web 2.0 is much more – it is a movement, a philosophy…

So, will O’Reilly and Battelle embrace my tagline for the Web 2.0 conference? I doubt it – it’s not flashy and it isn’t aimed at the bottom line: the almighty dollar. However, at the end of the day, I think true Web 2.0 is more than a technology, a company, a concept, or a service. Web 2.0 is simply providing an intuitive rich user experience that can be both egocentric and altruistic.

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