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March 25, 2005  Web 2.0

Original Post: 23 Mar 2005
Updated: 25 Mar 2005

We're on to Web 2.0. "But we're not even finished debugging Web 1.0," you say. Oh well. With God as Product Manager you have little choice but to upgrade.

What is Web 2.0? Well you can read the Wikipedia definition, if you feel inclined or keep reading while I attempt to unravel it for myself.

Web 1.0 was pretty cool. Remember GeoCities? That was funny. You would make an ugly website, and GeoCities would stick ads all over it. Yahoo, King of Web 1.0, bought Geocities in May 1999 for $6.4B and a lot of Web 1.0 people got rich. What made this whole thing so Web 1.0? The sites you would make on GeoCities were islands: no comments from visitors and with mostly static information that you would have to update by hand. To find things you would search using Yahoo, Google, etc.

Now we've entered a world where content creation has radically changed. We've got blogging tools like Blogger and Movable Type. We've got wikis like Wikipedia. This makes collaboration a joy. People leave comments on blogs, trackback when they post a response on their own site, and create a feedback loop in to the system.

All this information is then syndicated using RSS, which allows for a whole new way to consume the data: with RSS aggregators like Bloglines and ANT, container sites like the Open Media Network, RSS search engines like Technorati, or bookmarking tools like and Furl. These tools then allow you to syndicate out what you're consuming via syndication, creating yet another feedback loop.

One of the most compelling examples of this sort of feedback loop is the success of the photo sharing site Flickr, recently acquired by Yahoo for around $30M. Flickr is not particularly large. It has a user base of 270K, which is tiny compared to the 300M people that use Yahoo on a daily basis, but it is growing at 30% per month.

So what's so Web 2.0 about Flickr? Well, unlike Ofoto or Shutterfly, Flickr is built around the idea of community. Sound too fuzzy for you? Okay, Flickr assumes most people will default their permission settings on their photos to public, not private, and will syndicate posts using RSS. Call it social networking meets photo hosting meets syndication. That means that you can subscribe to a feed on squared circles and receive the updates as they come. How does Flickr know if something is a squared circle? Well you tell it by adding the tag. What if you don't have time? Someone else can tag it for you. Yes, collaborative tagging. Why would someone tag your photos? Why not. Flickr CEO Stewart Butterfield explained in an interview with O'Reily's Richard Koman: "Some people really are primarily using it for sharing photos with friends and family. They have contacts in the system and select certain photos to be only available to friends or family, only occasionally making a photo public. The majority, though, are making almost all of their photos public. Of those 3.5 million photos, 82 percent are public.... [People] derive some pleasure from building value in the global collection."

And this is the key insight that is driving Web 2.0: what we had initially thought of as private data is being incorporated in to a collective consciousness. My life's journal of photos, written entries, Internet bookmarks, who I like, where I eat, what I think about and when I think about it... it's all getting syndicated out to the world. And as people tune in, that creates a feedback loop. I tune in to them tuning in to me. Together we go about exploring something as simple as a squared circle or as complex as whether or not Kruzweil is correct about the idea that "exponential change is subtle".

Where do we go from here? Well, we may not have a choice. There is a natural progression to these sorts of things, and we may be along for the ride. But there is a chance to make a contribution. It's not clear whether your code or mine will power the pistons, but it's clear that someone's will. So we can spend our days building the Yahoo 360s, the iMeems, and, gulp, maybe even a HeyPix or two. Along the way we'll post to our blogs about the long tails, and what we ate for breakfast. We're embarking on a new era where we will know, as Michael Rollin put it, "that which will emerge from the structured amassment of all human knowledge, thought and behavior patterns". Now that I think about it, maybe we should call it Web 2.5.


In response to the launch of the new Yahoo! Creative Commons search, which allows you to find content that is free for distribution for non-commericial purposes as licensed under the Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig--Stanford Law Professor and chair of the Creative Commons project--had the following to say: "This is exciting news for us. It confirms great news about Yahoo!. I met their senior management last October. They had, imho, precisely the right vision of a future net. Not a platform for delivering whatever, but instead a platform for communities to develop."

That's what I was trying to convey with this post about Web 2.0. To repeat: "They had, imho, precisely the right vision of a future net. Not a platform for delivering whatever, but instead a platform for communities to develop."

Posted by johnnie at March 25, 2005 12:49 AM

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Hey Johnie.
Great Post. Two questions:
Who is Michael Rollin? and, can I get a iMeems invite?


Posted by: carlos.rocha [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 31, 2005 06:48 PM

I sent you an invite. Michael Rollin is a friend. Someday he'll have a website, and I will link to it.

Posted by: Johnnie Manzari [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2005 11:50 PM

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