Web 2.0: It's all about the community

February 1st, 2010

My guess is had this article been published in 2010 rather than 2005, Kevin Rose and his team at Digg would have gotten hefty mention (especially since they’re now keynote speakers at O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Expo). Web 2.0 has continued to evolve in the last 4 ½ years, and I think Rose’s projects in particular are a poster child for its progress. Specifically, the user-driven community is the inspiration for most Web 2.0 innovations.

For those unfamiliar with Kevin Rose or Digg, he is a former TechTV host/producer who left the channel shortly after it merged with G4. In late 2004 he officially launched Digg, a pet project that he hoped would encompass the best aspects of Web 2.0, but would also challenge the interface enough to continue to evolve. Rose’s main intention was to experiment with user-controlled media. Digg primarily serves as a news aggregator, similar to Slashdot in content, but different in that stories are promoted by users instead of a team of tech pros and editors (other influences include sites like Fark and Delicious). Stories that gain enough votes, or diggs, are visible on the front page, guaranteeing broad exposure. Likewise, stories that are inaccurate or otherwise useless can be “buried.” A simple member-based comment section for each story also utilizes the vote system.

In the five years that Digg has been around, it has had a profound influence on Web 2.0 evolution. We now take user-generated/user-promoted sites for granted, but it wasn’t that long ago that the internet was more of a one-way supply and demand, with a service always being the supplier and the user always being the demander, as detailed by O’Reilly. The relationship was very impersonal, with little to no interaction, let alone contribution from the user. The user community itself was very limited – sometimes they could link up and share info, but it didn’t go far beyond that, nor was it taken all that seriously, even in the early Web 2.0 days (and definitely not in Web 1.0).

Digg’s promotion of heavy user participation shot it to internet superstar status very quickly, and caused major internet players to take notice. The simple concept of intense social integration and user input (O’Reilly says successful Web 2.0 companies should trust users as co-developers) is what drove the success of Digg. The site architecture was consistently adapted to reflect the user community’s desires, not the other way around. It wasn’t long before most popular sites incorporated similar user-based voting systems, even if it’s just “liking” a comment with a little thumbs up (yeah, that basically started because of Digg). These social systems are crucial for allowing the community to have a say in what they need, and also helps them stay connected with each other, which in turn keeps them invested in the site.

Within the powerhouse of the online social movement, there are definitely other key features that make Web 2.0 evolution unique (and important). The internet gives everyone a voice, and when used appropriately, can prove to be extremely beneficial for all parties involved.

The shift from personal websites via services like Geocities to personal blogs is one major development. Individual space online isn’t a new concept, but the content is. Initially, personal sites were unorganized and lacked focus. They were basically About Me’s that had no structure in terms of visual flow and subject matter. Oftentimes all content was housed on one massive page rife with blinky things and Comic Sans font. The user had little to no guidance about how to portray their online presence. The advent of blogs (both written and photo) allowed users to carve out their internet identities while also providing an easy-to-use platform for organizing their content: blog posts, link menus, picture albums, etc. Within the blogging community there is also a plethora of services that can cater to everyone’s style: traditional sites like Blogger or WordPress, or more real-time stream-of-consciousness types like Tumblr. Another advance in blogging that I feel is indicative of Web 2.0 evolution is the ability to aggregate all of one’s personal sites into one. For example, if you have a WordPress blog, Tumblr, Delicious account, and flickr account, it is easier than ever to associate each of those services with one another, outside of merely linking. If you have new links bookmarked on Delicious and new photo on Flickr that you want to share, they can simultaneously appear on your preferred main site, making it simple and efficient to keep your content streamlined and easy-to-find. In the days of Web 1.0, your only resource would be housing everything together or directly linking (probably in a frame menu…). This makes it easier for users to follow one another and share their interests.

An excellent point brought up by O’Reilly is the shift in P2P services. I don’t know much about P2P architecture, but it seems that in the heyday of services like Kazaa or WinMX, the infrastructure was heavily centralized and inefficient. With the advent of torrenting, as O’Reilly says, “every client is also a server.” This means that the success of a particular torrent is dependent upon not only how many users have it, but how many are willing to share. The more sharers (seeders), the faster you can get what you want. As a measure of good etiquette, each user is encouraged to turn around and share, fostering a sense of community (notice how it keeps coming back to that?).

A short break down of some other shifts I notice are as follows (all of which seem to foster the community):

Web 1.0 // Web 2.0

  • Guestbooks // Comments
  • Chatrooms // Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Heavy, overt advertising // Savvy viral marketing combined with engaging user participation; also, text ads catered to your interests
  • Closed source // Open source

Some negative shifts:

Web 1.0 // Web 2.0

  • Virtually free, open content // Must be member (the downside of community based systems: many people are inevitably left out of the party)
  • Relatively stable standards // More primary options (especially mobile) mean a more divided internet (read about the Splinternet)
  • If you’re on the internet, you’re on the internet // Continuing debates about Net Neutrality and corporate regulated access, shielded behind the euphemism of community

Some other articles of interest:

Martin Sargent’s Goode Job Snafu — What happens when a business tries to embrace social media without understanding the rules
Kevin Rose at Web 2.0 Conference — A breakdown of tips he gives for Web 2.0 startups


2 Responses to “Web 2.0: It's all about the community”

  1. Jim on February 2, 2010 4:59 pm

    Web 1.0 // Web 2.0

    * Virtually free, open content // Must be member (the downside of community based systems: many people are inevitably left out of the party)
    * Relatively stable standards // More primary options (especially mobile) mean a more divided internet (read about the Splinternet)
    * If you’re on the internet, you’re on the internet // Continuing debates about Net Neutrality and corporate regulated access, shielded behind the euphemism of community

    Love these last three points, and elaborating on any one of them would make for a fascinating discussion of what Web 2.0 has become 5 years on. particularly your mention of net neutrality, a divided internet in relationship to mobile, as well as the questions surrounding community (and what it means to be in or out of one).

  2. Digital Storytelling: Week 4 at bavatuesdays on February 7, 2010 4:32 pm

    […] on that, Victoria Pacher’s post about Web 2.0 framed the emergence around the idea of community, and I particularly like the way she frames the […]

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