The Trouble with Web 2.0

December 23, 2006

Once upon a time, publishing webpages was solely the domain of a relatively select few. Those who had the ability to code in HTML, who knew how to use FTP to upload files and who had access to space on a webserver connected to the Internet. A decade ago, GeoCities was one of the first sites to offer free webspace for the general public to post their own pages. Many, many bad pages were produced, mainly because you still needed technical skills and ultimately, it was a sea of static pages providing one-way communication. And just because you had technical skills, it didn’t mean you also had writing and layout skills.

Skip forward to late-2004 when the term Web 2.0 was first used. A new wave of dynamic and totally interactive websites was introduced and the previous travellers of the information superhighway could all suddenly become consultants to and constructors of it. Wikipedia introduced the concept of a free on-line encyclopedia with hundreds of thousands of contributors and reviewers. MySpace offers social networking with an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, photos, music, videos and groups. Sites like del.icio.us are a social bookmarking phenomenon and have the power to direct large numbers of visitors to websites through a quick and simple recommendation system. Sites and services like these are increasing the generation of content on the web exponentially, simply by giving everyone the ability to easily contribute.

The trouble with Web 2.0 is that many new contributors have little consideration of laws and ethics and the governance of many nations has no comprehension of the implications of Web 2.0. For example, a few years ago, the band Metallica came down very heavily on peer-to-peer sharing networks like Napster for illegal distribution of their music. In the scheme of things, Napster users were a drop in the bucket compared to YouTube. This free site contains videos contributed by anyone and viewable by everyone, and many of Metallica’s video clips and live performances are neatly catalogued. While their Terms of Use specifically state that the uploading of copyrighted material is not permitted, the worse thing that will happen is the video will be removed as soon as it’s identified. Problem is, with 65,000 videos being posted each day, finding them all is not a simple task. So YouTube is presently a minefield of copyrighted videos – but even that didn’t stop Google from paying US$1.65B to acquire the company. Worse still, it’s a place where kids can post their pranks, shot with their mobile phone cameras. You like to destroy displays in a supermarket? Get your mates to video it, post it on YouTube and you’ve not only got a worldwide audience, but a host of mimickers to idolize and emulate your feats across the globe. Sadly, there are also videos of school playground bashings and fights.

Social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo are aimed directly at younger people and often at children. While it’s great that children can express themselves and have a voice in front of a wide audience, it’s the more mature concepts of privacy, decency and respect that are often lacking in their posts. Further, it’s the legal concepts of copyright infringement, defamation and incitement that are easy to forget in the world of Web 2.0. Why is it possible to so easily and publicly identify, defame and slander a man on a site like Don’t Date Him Girl! without any evidence to back it up? Why can students edit Wikipedia and Bebo entries about their school to include disparaging comments about teachers and other students?

The most common way that schools around the world are managing this problem is by filtering (blocking) access to many Web 2.0 sites at school. OK, that keeps the problem out of the school (assuming the children haven’t worked out how to circumvent the filters), but it does nothing to stop the problem at home. Laws are also ill-equipped to manage the problems of Web 2.0. What if the poster is a minor? What if the service is hosted in another country? What lesson will be learnt if the only repercussions are that the offending post will be removed – sometime after it has been found and reported?

So what’s needed? I think governments, schools and parents need to be more open-minded about the social-networking phenomenon for a start. We need to stop managing the posts and start managing the people who post. We need to update the age-old difference between right and wrong to mould it into a Web 2.0 environment. It’s not about exclusion, it’s about teaching respect and consideration and responsible self-publishing. It’s about teaching people to think critically in all aspects of life and it all needs to be backed up with appropriate, enforceable guidelines and laws.

Finally, yes, I accept the irony of writing about the Problems of Web 2.0 by using a Web 2.0 application. ) And there’s always the problem of what people might add to the comments section! ;)


How Google Earth Killed Santa…

December 23, 2006

December 12, 2006: GOOGLE releases an add-on to Google Earth in an attempt to reverse the damage it has done to millions of children around the world. But instead of reigniting children’s belief in Santa, it has effectively provided a fatal blow that will resonate in the ears and minds of our now scarred youth.

Google Killed Santa

Children know that if they are good, Santa will come to their house on Christmas Eve and bring them presents. But only if they have been good all year. Santa lives at the North Pole and on Christmas Eve he takes off in his sleigh pulled by magical reindeer, to visit the home of every good child on Earth.

For over a year now, many schools have been using incredible educational tools like Google Earth with their students to give them a wider view of this amazing planet and the reality we live in. One of the first things just about everybody does with Google Earth is to find their own home in their own town. They zoom in and they see their rooftop and their backyard. They see the park down the street. They see their school. They see an ocean of rooftops. They see their whole town. Then they start to think.

In the playground at lunchtime little Virginia is discussing with little Charlie: “Did you see all those houses in our town? Did you notice how few houses actually had chimneys?”. Charlie says, “Yeah, so what?“. So what, indeed. Well Virginia, did you know that less than 0.002% of dwellings in the world have chimneys and that many are little more than stovepipes that even a skinny Santa would find impossible to climb into?

After lunch, Virginia jumps back onto Google Earth. She heads off to the North Pole. She saw Elf last Christmas. If you can spot a topless sunbather on a rooftop in Holland in Google Earth, you must be able to spot Santa’s place! But guess what? There’s no land at the North Pole! All Google Earth shows is water. The Arctic Ocean. She’s confused. She discusses her findings with other students. Then one of her friends reminds her of NORAD. Yes! NORAD!

They’ve got this fabulous website that is dedicated to tracking Santa’s movements across the globe on Christmas Eve. NORAD’s been tracking Santa every year since 1955! They use satellites, radar and trailing jet fighters with SantaCams. Isn’t NORAD run by the government? They must have video, audio and photographs that prove Santa’s miracle. Surely the government would never deceive children. So Virginia takes a closer look at NORAD’s site. She finds an official email address for Santa himself. She knows it must be official – NorthPole@officialsantamail.com – but still, she’s not sure. So she runs a WHOIS lookup. Strangely, she discovers officialsantamail.com is registered to a company in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Virginia’s concerns start to grow. Coincidentally, there are “Virginias” in every school, in every town, in every country on Earth. The news gets back to Google that a revolt by children across the globe is imminent. Parents are furious. Meetings are hastily arranged and Google Earth 4.0 is released and with it an add-on to allow children to “see” and track Santa from his “base” at the North Pole.

The school Principal negotiates a meeting with Virginia and her followers to show that the “bug” in the previous version of Google Earth had been fixed and that Santa uses “scrambling” technology to avoid detection and keep the location of his workshop a secret. Google Earth 4.0 includes a new codec that circumvents Santa’s scramblers. Virginia sits at the computer and heads straight to the North Pole.

Google Killed Santa Google Killed Santa Google Killed Santa

OK, that looks plausible. Official NASA watermark on the image. There’s his workshop, a runway and his reindeer and sleigh waiting. But what’s that on the path? Viriginia zooms in. There he is! It’s Santa! But he looks somewhat cartoonish. Something’s wrong. Virginia plays with Google Earth’s slant tool andthe game is up.

The story of Santa Claus has been passed down unchanged from generation to generation. Not as a story to delight children, but as a way for parents to control their children. But it’s harmless! – or is it? Perhaps it’s OK to teach children there’s nothing wrong with being deceitful – I mean, it goes all the way to the top of government anyway… Or instead, maybe we could all be better parents and show our children the difference between right and wrong by what we do and what we say. Our children aren’t stupid. Why do we treat them like they are?

Wishing all my readers a happy and safe Christmas. )

Google Killed Santa


The Habits of Highly Effective Web 2.0 Sites

December 2, 2006

The next Web 2.0 Conference will be upon us in early November and things are busier than ever in the Web 2.0 world.  Along the way, I’ve managed to miss the one year anniversary of this blog, which I began back in late September of last year.  There have been over 2.5 million direct hits on this site since inception, a large percentage of it due to my Web 2.0 lists such as last year’s Best Web 2.0 Software List , but I also get e-mail frequently from die-hard readers as well.  Most importantly however, from all my conversations with people all over the world, it’s clear that Web 2.0 remains more than ever a topic of major popular interest and industry fascination.

While the general understanding of Web 2.0 is improving all the time, we have a ways to go before we have a concise, generally accepted definition.  My favorite is still networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects. But while most of what we ascribe to the Web 2.0 name falls out of these definition, it’s fairly hard for most of us to extrapolate meaningful ramifications from this.

People that read this blog know that I’m in the camp of folks that try to look beyond Ajax and the visual site design aspect of Web 2.0, and try to capture the deeper design patterns and business models that seem to be powering the most successful Web sites and online companies today.  Though concepts such as harnessing collective intelligence and Data as the Next Intel Inside, as described by Tim O’Reilly , most directly capture the spirit of the Web 2.0 era, it does seem to me that there are a few other elements that we haven’t nailed down yet.

At the AjaxWorld Conference and Expo earlier this month, I gave my usual talk about how to formally leverage Web 2.0, with plenty of examples coming from things happening out on the Web.  If you accept that it’s the power and size of the Web today , particularly the number of highly interactive network nodes (who are mostly people), give them extremely low-barrier tools, and we should be able to find plenty examples of emergent behavior; significant events happening suddenly and unexpectedly.  Tipping points are getting easier and easier to reach as site designers learn how to create better network effect triggers, draw large audiences suddenly, and as those same audiences increasingly self-organize spontaneously, such as in the KatrinaList project (suddenly) or Wikipedia (slower but bigger).

And it’s the arrival of Web 2.0 “supersites” like YouTube , which appear suddenly, often riding the coattails of other major Web 2.0 site’s ecosystems, and apply aggressive, viral network effects that show us the true, full scale of the possibilities.  Building a Web site worth over one billion dollars in 18 months is a very impressive result, but it’s really only a single axis upon which Web 2.0 can be applied successfully.  Another axis upon which to apply Web 2.0 focuses less on pulling in every single user possible with a horizontal network effect, but on building a difficult to reproduce but highly valuable data source, such as the Navteq mapping database, or Zillow’s real estate database.  One might argue that these are still very horizontal but these are merely just well known examples.

The variety and depth of the Web is such that not every Web 2.0 site will have tens of millions of users, nor should it.  An effective Web 2.0 site is largely powered by its users, whose feedback and contributions, direct and indirect, make the site a living ecosystem that evolves from day to day, a mosaic as rich and varied as a sites users would like it to be.  In other words, creating a high quality architectures of participation is becoming a strategic competitive advantage in many areas.

I’m often asked, particularly after one of my presentations on Web 2.0, to articulate the most important and effective actions a site designer can take to realize the benefits of Web 2.0.  As a result, I’ve created the list below in a attempt to catpure a good, general purpose overview of what these steps are.  My plan in the near future, is to dive into each one of these as much as time permits and explain how they make highly effective Web 2.0 sites not only effective, but often possible at all.  In the meantime, please take them for what they’re worth, I believe however that they are instrumental in making a Web site or application the most successful possible.

The Essentials of Leveraging Web 2.0

  • Ease of Use is the most important feature of any Web site, Web application, or program.
  • Open up your data as much possible. There is no future in hoarding data, only controlling it.
  • Aggressively add feedback loops to everything.  Pull out the loops that don’t seem to matter and emphasize the ones that give results.
  • Continuous release cycles.  The bigger the release, the more unwieldy it becomes (more dependencies, more planning, more disruption.)  Organic growth is the most powerful, adaptive, and resilient.
  • Make your users part of your software.  They are your most valuable source of content, feedback, and passion.  Start understanding social architecture.  Give up non-essential control.  Or your users will likely go elsewhere.
  • Turn your applications into platforms. An application usually has a single predetermined use while a platform is designed to be the foundation of something much bigger.  Instead of getting a single type of use from your software and data, you might get hundreds or even thousands of additional uses.
  • Don’t create social communities just to have them. They aren’t a checklist item.  But do empower inspired users to create them.

Of course, there a lot of work in the details and these are just some of the important, general essentials.  Unfortunately, a lot of careful thinking, planning, and engineering goes into any effective Web 2.0 site and it’s having these ideas at the core of it, which can help you get the best results.

Final Note:  I’ll be on the road the next two weeks and will be at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco from Nov. 7th-9th.  I’ll be there writing coverage for the Web 2.0 Journal and here as much as possible.  If you’re going to be there, please drop me a line if you’d like to meet.


Avoiding the 5 Most Common SEO Mistakes

December 2, 2006

Avoiding the 5 Most Common SEO Mistakes


Mozilla/Firefox leader speaks at Web 2.0 conference

December 2, 2006

Brendan Eich (see bio below), who works on the Mozilla project, is speaking at Web2.0 conference (http://web20.weblogsinc.com) right now. I’ll have an Mp3 file up in 15 minutes… so reload this page if you like.

Brendan Eich Eich is responsible for architecture and the technical direction of Mozilla. He is charged with authorizing module owners, owning architectural issues of the source base and writing the “roadmap” that outlines the direction of the Mozilla project. Eich created JavaScript, did the work through Navigator 4.0, and helped carry it through international standardization. Before Netscape, he wrote operating system and network code for SGI; and at MicroUnity, wrote micro-kernel and DSP code, and did the first MIPS R4K port of gcc, the GNU C compiler.


Britney’s Crotch Takes Web by Storm

December 2, 2006


I almost feel like I need a shower after writing about this, but now that the Associated Press has covered the story, I feel it has new legitimacy.

Britney at the Teen Choice Awards (AP)When I started this blog earlier this month, some of the copy desk editors at the New Era chided me a bit for my fascination with the Britney SpearsKevin Federline divorce saga.

They asked, “Why is this news?” and “If you’re doing an “Internet life” blog, why are you covering celebrity gossip?”

Granted, those copy editors that question my logic are in the over-40 crowd, and filter through “real news” everyday about war, politics, crime and other serious issues. Celebrity “news” is pretty much drivel to them, and I respect that. It’s cool. I get it.

But, if you look at my blogs’ traffic, most of my site’s visitors have come looking for three celebrity stories: My postings on Michael Richards and his infamous n-word rant at a L.A. comedy club and his subsequent apology, the Paris Hilton-Spears-Lindsay Lohanaxis of evil” in Vegas and my posts about Spears and K-Fed’s divorce.

Or is that now Fed-ex?

So now that the AP is on this story, I feel I can tackle the topic that the Internet and bloggers are abuzz about…

What is Spears thinking flashing her naked crotch around to photographers??!?!?

I mean, seriously!! And FOUR TIMES no less!!

Pink is the New Blog, a very good celeb-watching blog, has been keeping the flash count, and has a very good analysis of the … umm … well, “the situation.”

This whole trend of Brit “forgetting” to wear her undies is starting to be a tad damaging, in their view. Especially since “pelvis flash No. 4″ came while at a gas station. That further enforces her negative “trailer trash” stereotype. (Just watch an episode of the train wreck reality show she did with K-Fed, and you’ll see what I mean.)


Million Dollar Homepage Becomes Multi-Million Dollar Homepage

December 2, 2006

Alex Tew, the mastermind behind The Million Dollar Homepage is most certainly pressing his luck. Tew sold one million pixels worth of advertisement for $1 per pixel and made $1 million. It worked so well that he thinks he can do it again, this time for twice the price.Tew is reportedly on the verge of launching a second site called Pixelotto. Instead of selling each pixel for $1, he plans to sell each pixel for $2, plus hold some kind of lottery where the winner who clicks the right advertisement will win $1 million.

I will gladly eat my words if Tew can pull this off but I just don’t think that lightning strikes twice. It was a good idea…once! Second time around, it’s not, as Michael Arrington calls it, “another stupid, brilliant idea.” It’s just a stupid idea.