Web 2.0

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"Web 2.0 is all the Web sites out there that get their value from the actions of users." (http://www.micropersuasion.com/2006/09/finally_a_defin.html)


Web 2.0 is best defined by a combination of the following three characteristics:

  1. the value is created by the users
  2. it is the collection of tools that makes this possible
  3. it is the business model that funds the platforms that enable sharing, i.e. centralized and privately owned platforms

More technically, Web 2.0 is often used for sites 1) which attempt to make the data independent from the person producing them, so that they can be used freely by others; 2) to make the web programmable, so that less and less software is used in the PC, but the intelligence is located in the network; 3) to socialise web pages through collective intelligence, social software, and networking.


According to Dion Hinchcliffe in the Wall Street Journal

URL = http://web2.wsj2.com/the_state_of_web_20.htm

  • The Web and all its connected devices as one global platform of reusable services and data
  • Data consumption and remixing from all sources, particularly user generated data
  • Continuous and seamless update of software and data, often very rapidly
  • Rich and interactive user interfaces
  • Architecture of participation that encourages user contribution

For a more in-depth treatment, see Mark Pesce, The Soul of Web 2.0


Political Critique of the Web 2.0 Wisdom of Crowds paradigm

Marc Fawzi, has a detailed argument, see the Unwisdom of Crowds.

Here, he compares the Web 2.0 characteristics to those of the hunter-gatherer mode, and concludes that it is therefore regressive:

"Web 2.0: Back to the Hunter-Gatherer Society

Observe: trusted individuals are once again the source of news in a society (i.e. bloggers)

Observe: word of mouth is once again how news spreads (i.e. viral marketing)

Observe: people once again hunt and gather in a crowd (e.g. digg)

Observe: people once again group things using words like small, big, happy, sad, funny, food rather than detailed hierarchical structures (i.e. tags)

Observe: impulsive production (minimal upfront planning vs. a lot of upfront planning) is back in style (e.g. Google “betas")

Observe: once again, sharing between people cannot be explained with the strict concept of economic reciprocity and is being explained by the egalitarian and optimistic notion that what is good for all is good for one (YouTube, del.icio.us, etc.)

These are all traits of a hunter-gatherer society, i.e. a pre-agricultural society.

The interesting thing is that human behavior and society had evolved for a reason. It may be that the Internet is simply freeing the hunter gatherer inside us, but I wonder if bringing out an ancient ingrained behavior will upset the equilibrium that was achieved through tens of thousands of years of behavioral adaptation. I realize that the last statement sounds like the plot for Jurassic Park (the “hunter gatherer" in us as the suddenly reborn dinosaur ready to wreck havoc on modern-day socio-economic structures), but it’s a plausible suggestion given that the Web has already had a great disruptive effect on some industries, e.g. newspapers and soon the media hierarchy at large. Speaking of the media hierarchy, a hunter gatherer society is by definition incapable of supporting the concept of a formal, non-arbitrary social, economic or political hierarchy.

But is going back to a society with no formally defined social, economic and political hierarchies a good thing or a bad thing?

I content that it’s a bad thing and that Web 2.0 has got it all wrong by throwing away tens of thousands of years of adaptation and evolution of human society (on the behavioral and structural levels.)

This regression is being covered up by the false notion of the ‘wisdom of crowds.’" (http://evolvingtrends.wordpress.com/2006/07/07/web-25-from-hunter-gatherer-to-democratic-society/)

Web 2.0 and capitalist appropriation

1. Dmytri Kleiner

A critique of the Web 2.0 paradigm of the centralisation of sharing at Metamute magazine. By Dmytri Kleiner et al. at http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0:

"If Web 2.0 means anything at all, its meaning lies in the rationale of venture capital. Web 2.0 represents the return of investment in internet startups. After the dotcom bust (the real end of Web 1.0) those wooing investment dollars needed a new rationale for investing in online ventures. ‘Build it and they will come’, the dominant attitude of the ’90s dotcom boom, along with the delusional ‘new economy’, was no longer attractive after so many online ventures failed. Building infrastructure and financing real capitalisation was no longer what investors were looking for. Capturing value created by others, however, proved to be a more attractive proposition.

Web 2.0 is Internet Investment Boom 2.0. Web 2.0 is a business model, it means private capture of community-created value. No one denies that the techology of sites like YouTube, for instance, is trivial. This is more than evidenced by the large number of identical services such as DailyMotion. The real value of YouTube is not created by the developers of the site, but rather it is created by the people who upload videos to the site. Yet, when YouTube was bought for over a billion dollars worth of Google stock, how much of this stock was acquired by those that made all these videos? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Great deal if you are an owner of a Web 2.0 company.

The value produced by users of Web 2.0 services such as YouTube is captured by capitalist investors. In some cases, the actual content they contribute winds up the property of site owners. Private appropriation of community created value is a betrayal of the promise of sharing technology and free cooperation.

Unlike Web 1.0, where investors often financed expensive capital acquisition, software development and content creation, a Web 2.0 investor mainly needs to finance hype-generation, marketing and buzz. The infrastructure is widely available for cheap, the content is free and cost of the software, at least that much of it that is not also free, is negligible. Basically, by providing some bandwidth and disk space, you are able to become a successful internet site if you can market yourself effectively.

The principal success of a Web 2.0 company comes from its relationship to the community, more specifically, the ability of the company to ‘harness collective intelligence’, as O’Reilly puts it. Web 1.0 companies were too monolithic and unilateral in their approach to content. Success stories of the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 were based on the ability for a company to remain monolithic in its brand of content, or better yet, its outright ownership of that content, while opening up the method of that content’s creation to the community. Yahoo! Created a portal to community content while it remained the centralised location to find that content. EBay allows the community to sell its goods while owning the marketplace for those goods. Amazon, selling the same products as many other sites, succeeded by allowing the community to participate in the ‘flow’ around their products.

Because the capitalists who invest in Web 2.0 startups do not often fund early capitalisation, their behaviour is markedly more parasitic as well. They often arrive late in the game when value creation already has good momentum, swoop in to take ownership and use their financial power to promote the service, often within the context of a hegemonic network of major, well financed partners. This means that companies that are not acquired by venture capital end up cash starved and squeezed out of the club.

In all these cases, the value of the internet site is created not by the paid staff of the company that runs it, but by the users who use it. With all of the emphasis on community created content and sharing, it’s easy to overlook the other side of the Web 2.0 experience: ownership of all this content and ability to monetise its value. To the user, this doesn’t come up that often, it’s only part of the fine print in their MySpace Terms of Service agreement, or it’s the Flickr.com in the url of their photos. It doesn’t usually seem like an issue to the community, it’s a small price to pay for the use of these wonderful applications and for the impressive effect on search engine results when one queries one’s own name. Since most users do not have access to alternative means to produce and publish their own content, they are attracted to sites like MySpace and Flickr." (http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0)

2. Christian Fuchs

"The repressive tolerance of Web 2.0 is a contemporary expression of what Marcuse almost 40 years ago termed ‘totalitarian democracy’.

Web 2.0 not only functions as repressive tolerance, but also as marketing ideology for advancing capital accumulation by selling audiences as commodities. Web 2.0 applications like social networking platforms keep individuals busy generating personal information that they display online in social networking profiles, blogs, etc. Most of these applications are built in such a way that each participant has his or her own space that he or she creates and maintains. Others are welcome as friends who are accumulated in friends lists and who comment in guest books or on blog entries, but inherently social platforms where users co-create are largely missing. Social networking platforms in their current form further advance individualization.

(1) They are ideological expressions of individual creativity that create the illusion that individual expressions count in capitalism because they can be publicly displayed on the Internet (the problem is that this individualized information hardly influences political decisions and power structures).

(2) They are based on instrumental reason because on platforms like MySpace networking becomes a performance-driven and competitive effort oriented around accumulating as many friends as possible (Fuchs, 2008). Another problematic aspect of social networking platforms is that they are huge collections of personal information that if accessed by corporations or state apparatuses give a new dimension to surveillance.

Social networking has an ideological character: its networking advances capitalist individualization, accumulation and legitimization. An alternative would be platforms that allow group profiles, joint profile creation, group blogging, and that are explicitly oriented towards collective political and social goals. I suggest that what are needed primarily today are fundamental transformations of the political and economic system towards participatory systems that are supported by new media. This today is not the case; what happens right now is the commodification and colonization of society and with it, of the media and Web 2.0 by dominant interests.

Social networking platforms are an example of the simultaneity of the ideological and commodity character of media. The ideology of individualization drives user demand, which allows the commodification of audiences that yields profit. The commodification of audiences allows the further extension and sophistication of social networking platforms, which in turn attracts more users and so further advances individualization. There is a dialectic of commodification and individualization." (http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/ICTS_EJC.pdf)

Web 2.0 as a pre-emptive strike against P2P systems

(I question this argument, since P2P systems continue to evolve, and are being used by entrepreneurial ventures as well - MB)

From Metamute. By Dmytri Kleiner et al at http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0:

"From a technological stand point, distributed and peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies are far more efficient than Web 2.0 systems. Making better use of network resources by using the computers and network connections of users, P2P avoids creating bottlenecks created by centralised systems and allows content to be published with less infrastructure, often no more than a computer and a consumer internet connection. P2P systems do not require the massive data centres of sites such as YouTube. The lack of central infrastructure also comes with a lack of central control, meaning that censorship, often a problem with privately-owned ‘communities’ that frequently bend to private and public pressure groups and enforce limitations on the the kinds of content they allow. Also, the lack of large central cross-referencing databases of user information has a strong advantage in terms of privacy.

From this perspective, it can be said that Web 2.0 is capitalism’s preemptive attack against P2P systems. Despite their many disadvantages in comparison to these, Web 2.0 is more attractive to investors, and thus has more money to fund and promote centralised solutions. The end result of this is that capitalist investment flowed into centralised solutions making them easy and cheap or free for non-technical information producers to adopt. Thus, this ease of access compared to the more technically challenging and expensive undertaking of owning your own means of information production created a ‘landless’ information proletariat ready to provide alienated content-creating labour for the the new info-landlords of Web 2.0.

The mission of Web 2.0 is to destroy the P2P aspect of the internet. To make you, your computer, and your internet connection dependent on connecting to a centralised service that controls your ability to communicate. Web 2.0 is the ruin of free, peer-to-peer systems and the return of monolithic ‘online services’. A telling detail here is that most home or office internet connections in the ’90s, modem and ISDN connections, were synchronous – equal in their ability to send and receive data. By design, your connection enabled you to be equally a producer and a consumer of information. On the other hand, modern DSL and cable-modem connections are asynchronous, allowing you to download information quickly, but upload slowly. Not to mention the fact that many user agreements for internet service forbid you to run servers on your consumer circuit, and may cut off your service if you do.

Capitalism, rooted in the idea of earning income by way of idle share ownership, requires centralised control, without which peer producers have no reason to share their income with outside shareholders. Capitalism, therefore, is incompatible with free P2P networks, and thus, so long as the financing of internet development comes from private shareholders looking to capture value by owning internet resources, the network will only become more restricted and centralised.

It should be noted that even in the case of commons-based peer production, so long as the commons and membership in the peer group is limited, and inputs such as food for the producers and the computers that they use are acquired from outside the commons-based peer group, then the peer producers themselves may be complicit in the exploitative capturing of this labour value. Thus in order to really address the unjust capture of alienated labour value, access to the commons and membership in the peer group must be extended as far as possible toward the inclusion of a total system of goods and services. Only when all productive goods are available from commons-based producers can all producers retain the value of the product of their labour.

And while the information commons may have the possibility of playing a role in moving society toward more inclusive modes of production, any real hope for a genuine, community enriching, next generation of internet-based services is not rooted in creating privately owned, centralised resources, but rather in creating cooperative, P2P and commons-based systems, owned by everybody and nobody. Although small and obscure by today’s standards, with it’s focus on peer-to-peer applications such as Usenet and email, the early internet was very much a common, shared resource. Along with the commercialisation of the internet and the emergence of capitalist financing comes the enclosure of this information commons, translating public wealth into private profit. Thus Web 2.0 is not to be thought of as a second-generation of either the technical or social development of the internet, but rather as the second wave of capitalist enclosure of the Information Commons.

Virtually all of the most used internet resources could be replaced by P2P alternatives. Google could be replaced by a P2P search system, where every browser and every webserver were active nodes in the search process; Flickr and YouTube could also be replaced by PeerCast and eDonkey type applications, which allow users to use their own computers and internet connections to collaboratively share their pictures and videos. However, developing internet resources requires the application of wealth, and so long as the source of this wealth is finance capital, the great peer-to-peer potential of the internet will remain unrealised." (http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0)

The Strength of Weak Cooperation

Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon:

“one the sociological characteristics of these services is that making personal production public creates a new articulation between individualism and solidarity, which reveals the strength of weak cooperation.

Web development always contains the community ideal. But the community - whatever it is before or through the digital exchanges between individuals - is usually considered as both voluntary and organised cooperation (RHEINGOLD, 1994). In both cases, the cooperation between individuals can be qualified as strong: Common sociability and a set of roles and defined exchange modalities gives individuals the feeling that they are part of the community and share a common vision. However, the success of Web 2.0 services shows that its users mobilise much weaker cooperation between individuals. Web 2.0 services allow individual contributors to experience cooperation ex post. The strength of the weak cooperation comes from the fact that it is not necessary for individuals to have an ex ante cooperative action plan or altruist preoccupation. They discover cooperative opportunities only by making their individual production public, i.e. texts, photos, videos etc.

With the dynamic of self-production, inter-individual relations between users are dense, active, frequent and very horizontal. When content is produced by users themselves, sometimes mixing mass culture product with their own production, they develop interpersonal relations in which their identities are expressed through their production. In a certain way, Web 2.0 services can be characterized by the astonishing rise of public interpersonal relations in mediated communities, the extension of the number of contacts and the growth of a new form of weak friendship.

Self-organization appears as the major form of collective organization in Web 2.0 relational structures. This form of cooperation doesn't correspond to a planned model of collective processes and has no real centre of organization. Even if we could study the large variety of organizational forms (from Wikipedia to free software communities), one of the main characteristics of all theses services is the fact that the rules and norms are produced by users themselves. When users have to obey constraints proposed by services providers, they often suggest or criticize formal rules and try to influence providers in order to adopt better rules for the community. For example, BOYD (2004) has described the mobilization of Friendster users against the provider when the company tried to stop the rise of "Fraudster" used by participants to extend the number of their relationships by creating fictional identities - such as Georges Bush or Mel Gibson (BOYD, 2004). In most mediated communities of Web 2.0 services, such as the monitoring of papers in Wikipedia, collective rules are self-organized on the basis of user contributions. The rise of tagging practices can be seen as the best illustration of this tendency. Instead of a well-defined, vertical and centralized classification, users develop personal tags as a new way of organizing information, which is a compromise between personal filing and collective production of taxonomy (MARLOW et al., 2006). This new form of weak cooperation based on individual contributions has been described by BENKLER (2005) as a new context of innovation in the digital economy; this cooperation is possible in a specific context where it is possible to attract a very large number of participants, allowing them to make very small contributions with a granularity effect. ”

Source: The strength of Weak Cooperation. Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon. Communication & Strategies, No. 65, 1st Quarter 2007.

Web 2.0 as an New Innovation Model

Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon:

“Historically, innovation in IT was the domain of companies with two specificities: firstly, a permanent co-innovation and co-invention process requiring a chain of individuals to transform generic IT core tools into user-friendly applications (BRESNAHAM, 2002); and secondly a low access cost due to the digitalisation of information, which allowed small players, start-ups and even individual developers to enter the sector. Those two specificities explain why unpredictable players, such as free software developers, were able to enter the IT industry. In the mid 1990s, two innovation models were evident: a company model, with the characteristic of giving space to small players occupying some technological niches or, from time to time, jumping ahead with a differentiating technology such as Google's ranking algorithms; and a free-software model based on massive, but remote cooperation through tools such as software Forges.

Web 2.0 is an interesting case in point, with the appearance of new spaces for cooperation that differ from both the company model and the remote cooperation of the free software community. Before Web 2.0, IT companies mixed vertical cooperation, for example the historical relation between Microsoft and Intel, with hard competition and tough control over the technical development processes. In the second part of the1990s, during the web and internet bubble, start-ups still followed this model. The Web 2.0 innovation model is very different because it introduces horizontal cooperation between players.

To illustrate this shift in the innovation process, we will look at two different spaces for cooperation characteristic of the Web 2.0 world: the BarCamp and the Coworking places. As for the relations among users of Web 2.0 services, these spaces are based on weaker cooperation than the company projects, but nonetheless require live contacts and greater commitment than in the free software model. This kind of cooperation is related to the specificities of contemporary relational individualism (SINGLY, 2003), but also arise from the particular characteristics of Web 2.0.

The first characteristic is the fact than Web 2.0 applications lie somewhere between the closed model of patented software and the open model of free software. Few Web 2.0 services are based entirely on free software, but all of them have open API (Applications Protocol Interfaces), which allow much better "cooperation" between services than simple software interoperability. "Mashup" (a web application that combines content from different sources) is the symbol of Web 2.0, where each service grows rich from the content given by other services. Even if Web 2.0 services designers only know ex post if opening the API will help to increase audience, knowing the ecosystem in which the service could be used and making it easy for other players to build mashup is also useful. The second characteristic is a new link between the free-software culture and services users. While the majority of Web 2.0 applications are not totally free, they are based on free-software bricks and their designers are immersed in the free-software culture. Previously, free-software developers focused on low-layer software such as Apache, the popular web server, or on operating systems such as Linux, leaving the everyday applications to the corporations (even Open Office was developed mainly by Sun and IBM engineers). The Web 2.0 wave marks an important shift with immediate consequences: developers cannot remain a closed community with an esoteric language and practises for initiates; they are now building high-layer software applications used directly by the public and for that they need designers, graphic designers and even marketers, economists, sociologists, etc.”

Source: The strength of Weak Cooperation. Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon. Communication & Strategies, No. 65, 1st Quarter 2007.

For more, check our entries on BarCamps, Unconferences, and Co-Working

More Information

  1. Here's a good overview of tools already, at http://www.shambles.net/web2/
  2. Web 3.0

Graphic Representations

1. By Tim O'Reilly

URL = http://www.siliconbeat.com/entries/meme-map.jpg

2. By Dion Hinchcliffe

URL = http://hinchcliffe.org/img/web2architecture.jpg