Saturday, September 10, 2005
What a concept: the Web as Platform. Is that what Web 2.0 is? It depends on who you ask:
- Jon Udell (as quoted in a classic essay by Tim O'Reilly): "Don't think of the Web as a client-server system that simply delivers web pages to web servers. Think of it as a distributed services architecture, with the URL as a first generation "API" for calling those services."
- Deep Green Crystals: "The next generation of web applications will leverage the shared infrastructure of the web 1.0 companies like EBay, Paypal, Google, Amazon, and Yahoo, not just the "bare bones transit" infrastructure that was there when we started..."
- Jeff Bezos: "web 2.0...is about making the Internet useful for computers."
- computeruser.com: "Yesterday’s challenge of producing elegant and database-driven Web sites is being replaced by the need to create Web 2.0 'points of presence'"
- Mitch Kapor: "The web browser and the infrastructure of the World Wide Web is on the cusp of bettering its aging cousin, the desktop-based graphical user interface for common PC applications."
Evolution of Web 2.0
In Web 1.0, a small number of writers created Web pages for a large number of readers. As a result, people could get information by going directly to the source: Adobe.com for graphic design issues, Microsoft.com for Windows issues, and CNN.com for news. Over time, however, more and more people started writing content in addition to reading it. This had an interesting effect—suddenly there was too much information to keep up with! We did not have enough time for everyone who wanted our attention and visiting all sites with relevant content simply wasn’t possible. As personal publishing caught on and went mainstream, it became apparent that the Web 1.0 paradigm had to change.
Enter Web 2.0, a vision of the Web in which information is broken up into “microcontent” units that can be distributed over dozens of domains. The Web of documents has morphed into a Web of data. We are no longer just looking to the same old sources for information. Now we’re looking to a new set of tools to aggregate and remix microcontent in new and useful ways.
(This makes me wonder if the all the fuss about learning objects is barking up the wrong tree. Why invent a new way to replicate what the mainstream web is going to do anyway? Clay Shirky: "The mass amateurization of publishing means the mass amateurization of cataloging is a forced move.")
Networks trump PCs
Instead of visual design being the interface to content, Web services have become programmatic interfaces to that same content. This is truly powerful. Anyone can build an interface to content on any domain if the developers there provide a Web services API.
Jerry Michalski recently wrote that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs created stand-alone systems while Doug Engelbart envisioned connecting with others. Microsoft hit the big time with a disk operating system for IBM's defacto standard PC.
- I bought one of the early IBM PCs. Connecting to the outside world involved buying a Hayes modem and some shareware software (I used Andrew Fluegelman's PC-Talk). This enabled me to participate in bulletin boards at a blazing 300 baud.
- Jobs then took the highly networked visions created at Xerox PARC and somehow turned out a brilliant, but completely isolated little anthropomorphic machine. For some time, he didn't want it to have a hard drive, a network or a larger/color monitor. Sheesh.
Other people? Other places? They're over there, on the H: drive or in the "collaboration" application.
Why have these magical platforms neglected our social nature for so long? Why are these features still being glued on as afterthoughts, like antlers on a jackalope? Can't we loosen up, move things around a bit so that collaboration, annotation, search and linking are always at hand, for every object, as native functions of every window?
Web 2.0 is going to change all that. The future resides in connections.
Microsoft's ... focusing on yesterday's market. Microsoft's dominance of the desktop is as relevant to the future of computing as Union Pacific's dominance of the railroads was to the future of transportation in the twentieth century. Here's a sampling of reasons why Microsoft is history:
- Microsoft wants everyone to have a rich desktop experience, Google wants everyone to have a rich Internet experience.
- Microsoft's business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google's depends on everyone exploring what's new in their computing environment every day.
- Microsoft looks at the world from a perspective of desktop+Internet. Google looks at the world from a perspective of Internet+any device.
- Microsoft wants computers to help individuals do more unaided. Google wants computers to help individuals do more in collaboration. In the Internet age, who wants to work alone any more, when all the unexplored opportunity is in collaborative endeavor?
One feature of Web 1.0 that seemed to change everything about publishing was the ability to make changes to the primary publication at any time. There are no “editions” or “printings” on the Web like there are in the print world. There is simply the site and its current state. We are used to this paradigm now, and an optimist can hope that Web content will only get better with time: metadata will be added, descriptions will get deeper, topics more clear, and references more comprehensive.
What we see happening in Web 2.0 is a step beyond this, to where users are adding their own metadata. On Flickr and Del.icio.us, any user can attach tags to digital media items (files, bookmarks, images). The tagging aspect of these services isn’t the most interesting part of them, though. What is most interesting are the trends we see when we put together everyone’s tags.
Let’s say, for example, that we tag a bookmark “Web2.0” in Del.icio.us. We can then access del.icio.us/tag/Web2.0 to see what items others have tagged similarly, and discover valuable content that we may not have known existed. A search engine searches metadata applied by designers, but Del.icio.us leverages metadata applied by folks who don’t necessarily fit that mold.
Check what you get by going to http://del.icio.us/tag/web2.0 Of course, you're seeing a page generated especially for you. It's probably quite different from the page I looked at.
Now software and systems are embracing flexibility and bottom-up change. Users can give as well as take. Intelligent networks are becoming much more important than any of their nodes. Computing is adapting to us. We're headed in the direction Jerry called for when he asked for us to loosen up, move things around a bit so that collaboration, annotation, search and linking are always at hand, for every object, as native functions of every window. Connections count!
Let's go up on the balcony and take a look at the patterns of this loosely-defined Web 2.0. From here, many aspects of Web 2.0 are parallel to what I envision coming in corporate learning. Bottom-up, read/write, addressable chunks, application independence, mash-up and remix, and integration with real life.
So, is there a future in text-remix? Should Jay become a TJ (text jockey)?
I pointed Copernic Summarizer at the text then on this page and requested a 250-word summary.
This morning I was reading Robin Good's blog, looking for an assessment of a particular web conferencing app, when an article on Web 2.0 highjacked my attention.
Networks trump PCs. Web 2.0 is the era when people have come to realize that it's not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web.
Web 1.0 was an era when people could think that Netscape (a software company) was the contender for the computer industry crown; Web 2.0 is an era when people are recognizing that leadership in the computer industry has passed from traditional software companies to a new kind of internet service company. Instead of visual design being the interface to content, Web services have become programmatic interfaces to that same content.
Jerry Michalski recently wrote that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs created stand-alone systems while Doug Engelbart envisioned connecting with others. Microsoft hit the big time with a disk operating system for IBM's defacto standard PC. But Microsoft documents are too large for collaboration, and their proprietary formats don't allow the linking and remixing needed for creativity.
Microsoft wants everyone to have a rich desktop experience, Google wants everyone to have a rich Internet experience.
We are used to this paradigm now, and an optimist can hope that Web content will only get better with time: metadata will be added, descriptions will get deeper, topics more clear, and references more comprehensive.