Web 2.0: The Micro And Macro Of The Matter

web2

In this post, I want to pull back a bit to focus on some of the meaning behind the term Web 2.0, touching upon aspects of the meme that have driven it to a certain tipping point within the tech community. And no, that doesn’t mean everyone is on board—as dedicated professionals are either embracing the moniker or slapping it down as a marketing gimmick—but one can’t deny the lexicon has begun to reach the mainstream business world.

The Way We Were

Each year, over the past 10 years or so, the internet has progressively behaved less like a mass of disparate domains—hooked into each other via simple hyperlinks—and more like a functioning network. If you can’t remember 10 years back, 1996 was practically the McCarthy era of the web. There was a good chance you’d be sued if your web site linked to a corporate site without permission.

Seriously.

The behavior of the web as a macro entity wasn’t very smart as well. It essentially stagnated as an enabler for people (including developers) to interact (publish, reuse, etc.) with individual sites. The two-way web was there on paper, but an infrastructure forged across a critical mass of domains had yet to be accomplished.

Then along came Amazon, blowing the roof off of e-commerce by implementing collaborative filtering. Skip over a few other ingenious domains and Google completely changed the definition of information retrieval within both its own domain and others. The IQ of the web jumped as its big players became smarter, but across a majority of domains, the web was still more of a parking garage for individual vehicles, with individual owners and drivers. Carpooling hadn’t begun yet.

The Definition Of A Smart Web

Take my home office network as an example. Each day I easily share data between three machines in order to accomplish a multitude of different goals and a subset of numerous tasks. If I’m using my PC and want to alter an image found on my PowerBook, I simply use Photoshop on my PC to grab the data from across the network, manipulate the image and save it back to its original location. I perform similar operations when marking up HTML and CSS on my PowerBook, then hopping on a browser on my PC to view the data in a rendered form.

This is my personal realm of shared data; a collaborative, transparent, usable space called a network. It stitches together my various personal computers, allowing my software to access data openly and freely. The label isn’t fancy, because the concept is finite and comprehensible. I own everything, from the hardware to the software to the authentications allowing access throughout. I am the network.

I Am Not The Web… Yet

A transition to a user-centered web will only occur once we, the web development community, take the well established premise of a finite network and extrapolate its underlying philosophies of connectivity, transparency and usefulness across a potentially unlimited amount of “networked” domains—each with varying business objectives and often at best, a subjective understanding of user goals and tasks.

In doing so, the rationale for the 2.0 label will start to become clear, as we’re dealing with an enormous number of variables in an extremely large value equation.

We’re living in an entrepreneur’s dream world.

Web 2.0 is a useful moniker to latch onto. Without a set of guiding principles, progressive domains that eat, sleep and breath collaborative, transparent and useful user experiences might end up functioning within a bubble, as opposed to influencing the adoption of industry-wide hooks of shared data and patterns. Just as Amazon and Google previously raised the bar in the late 90’s and challenged their competition to innovate or fold, this philosophical approach is a rallying cry for the entire industry.

The Micro/Macro Example

I’m going to stick with my current favorite example from around the web. A subset of interface features on flickr reads like this:

Each of these features within the flickr domain could be studied to find analogous patterns from the macro arena around the web (e.g. posting images is the equivalent to publishing a podcast), but by focusing on one feature, user commenting, we can blow out the possibilities for usefulness across a Web 2.0 environment.

While commenting isn’t unique per se, flickr does provide a commenting feature that is very useful. In order to help a user keep up with discourse surrounding their posts, flickr provides a “Recent Activity” screen, which not only presents user comments in context to the images, but notifies you when your image was added as someone else’s favorite. There’s also an elegantly designed page which documents the history of comments that you’ve made across the domain. flickr makes this so easy to track, they even provide an RSS feed for peripheral awareness.

commenting

Now take this concept from the micro space of flickr and extrapolate it across the macro space of the web and you have the means to track numerous conversations you’ve either started or joined over n period of time. Blogpulse has a similar interface with its Conversation Tracker, but that relates more to trackbacks and the movement of a topical conversation across posts. Interesting, but not personally interesting.

The captivating aspect of the localized, recent activity screen from flickr is through the exposure of an involved conversation, rather than an uninvolved and evolving perspective.

When flickr was without the recent activity feature, I was never able to remember what images I previously commented on, so in turn, my participation level was reduced. With the feature, I comment much more often, as the connection between me and other people’s information objects is now tangible.

Now, apply that same concept to the web. What would a recent activity interface centered on your comments from around the web do for your continued contribution to public discourse?

This is only one idea for how the concepts behind the Web 2.0 meme can change the way we look at the web, moving from a centralized group of branded domains to a functional network of decentralized, shared data, information and applications.

What are some of your ideas?

Newsweek Blog Talk: An Innovator?

blog-talk

Newsweek and Technorati are in bed together and I’m really hoping it isn’t a monogamous relationship.

I’m not sure when this started, but Newsweek is now citing “Blog Talk,” creating a contextual column from the Newsweek article page that links to a full Blog Talk page which presents the last 10 blogs posts that have linked to the Newsweek article. This is being done automatically, sans any editorial review.

I’m currently working on a project for which I presented this exact context scenario for our blogger design persona. I couldn’t believe the serendipity. So to ensure the API and execution would support our needs, I ran a quick test and posted a response to the “I’m So Sorry” article, linking back to the story URL. Within 10 minutes of pinging Technorati, my post appeared on the Newsweek page. Okay, that’s very progressive. Sure, it’s only a glorified trackback system, but the underlying philosophy has huge implications.

We’re quickly moving to a sustainable model for presenting the individual perspective on the same level as mainstream media’s editorial-driven journalism. It’s a win-win; a site like Newsweek gets an increased blogger readership and bloggers have the opportunity to share their perspectives with people that may not even know how to navigate the scattered blogosphere.

From my perspective, this is the first step to truly legitimizing the blogosphere.

What’s next? Well, if Google, Yahoo! and other mainstream news aggregators begin to index blogs for their search queries, we’d be one step closer to breaking through the mainstream media stranglehold on information for the average American that receives their news on-line. All of this is what the promise of Community TV was supposed to provide twenty years ago, but ran into the obvious production challenges.

This is really good. It’s good for business, good for bloggers, and most importantly, good for bubbling up numerous perspectives of a story to the surface. This is discourse.

Tag! We’re It! Part II

A few months back, I stepped out of my dead-bolted existence within the walls of Ameritrade and began to digest the current state of this Web 2.0 explosion; the Semantic Web seems so much closer to fruition than it did just a few years back. Much of the renewed push and entrepreneurial spirit that has driven this industry-wide rebirth of shared data has been driven by our economic recovery from the dot-com crash. That’s a fact, but it’s not a sufficient answer to the focus behind 2.0—something deeper feels at play.

I decided to dig in and head down a rabbit hole of sociological context on a journey for clarity, and what I’ve come to realize isn’t particularly shocking.

dictatorial-democracy

We live in tumultuous times.

The air we breathe is being compromised more and more every day. Poverty around the world is increasing exponentially. Our country is knee deep in another Vietnam, another occupation, another struggle for gaining natural resources at any cost. People are becoming polarized by important and moral, personal and social issues, seemingly on a daily basis.

All of this is occurring during the reign of an administration that has even the staunchest of conservatives questioning whether we, the people, are living within the midst of a dictatorial democracy, rather than a thriving Republic, built on the principles of political discourse, government checks and balances, fiscal responsibility, the separation of church and state and the power of the individual voter.

So where does this leave us as a people?

Personally speaking, I’ve decided to refocus my effort to publish my views, opinions, perspectives, experiences, etc., in an effort to make even the slightest dent in the discourse surrounding our roles as American citizens.

What motivates me? Pick your poison: the War on Terror; the Rove/Plame/Wilson scandal; the Bolton push-through appointment; the Cindy Sheehan vigil. It seems that every day a new flow of bullshit only fuels the righteous indignation I’ve come to hold regarding this administration.

Is it even possible to imagine a more visceral description of an Aristocracy at play?

For me, the complete disregard of the intelligence and voice of the American citizen begins to explain the groundswell of blogging that has occurred over the past four years, specifically the political blogs and mainstream media watchdog sites.

Sure, the potential for capital gains plays a large role in the motivation to advance technology or any other industry. The web, though, is a bit different due to it’s low cost of entry, so I believe that moral conviction plays a role in both driving the evolution of technology and the passion to leverage it to it’s fullest degree.

So what’s the connection between geo-political events, blogging and the tactical fervor of Web 2.0? (social bookmarking, tagging, open source, open content, etc.)

In a nutshell: everything.

Without a true social democracy in the real, we’ve evolved to create one on-line — where boundaries can be broken down, hierarchies can be dissolved, control can be minimized, etc.

I blog in order to get my voice out into the ether of this new social construct; I tag my blog posts to provide context and semantic relationships on numerous levels, yet with a similar purpose:

  1. On the base object level to provide a succinct description of how I perceive this content from a conceptual perspective, perhaps creating a) a greater connection with the reader on a discernible level and b) connections on associative & relational levels with other objects (within my domain and elsewhere)
  2. On the categorization level to establish context within a particularly defined category or across a faceted classification scheme. If I were an actual brand, this would be how I’d ensure my position was reflected within my editorial construct and navigation scheme.
  3. On the retrievable object level to allow for more avenues of findability (four, well-thought descriptive tags exponentially increase the odds of object retrieval rather than none or even one, either in straight queries or in contextual presentation on the base object level)

These are tactical strategies in the information revolution.

The same principles apply to tagging even more granular object such as photographs, video and sound files, as well as the macro-level social bookmarking of URLs. The effort, I believe, is based on the desire of individual voices to be heard amidst the shelling of the mainstream media. While technically speaking, Web 2.0 is about the creation of richly defined object models and attributes — the more good data we entrench within our objects (be it content, files or URLs themselves), the better the chance for a semantic web experience — the movement behind it is much more compelling, much more philosophical in nature.

After leaving Ameritrade in April, I spent a month digesting Noam Chomsky‘s Understanding Power, which introduced me to the specifics of his propaganda model thesis, which I fully digested by watching the documentary Manufacturing Consent. Recently, Dave Sifry (CEO, Technorati) posted a graph on the Technorati Blog displaying the impact that blogs are making within the once dominated realm of entrenched, funded, mainstream media.

I’m only guessing that if Chomsky has studied the progression of the web, he’s smiling up in Cambridge right about now.

The legitimization of the individual (creative and political) perspective is being sustained in the 21st century by the conviction of the blogosphere, passionate focus on the possibilities of 2.0 revenue models and domains, such as Technorati, taking a leadership position. The concept of social dialog, networking and organization and the elemental foundation of capitalism are beginning to shift in exciting ways.

Imagine a near future where:

  • Individual perspectives can be made more readily sustainable through a common revenue model, reversing the big money/power structure of publication and media saturation? How would that impact the politics of our nation? Our wage labor practices?
  • Algorithms and interfaces allow for rich, precise retrievals of topical queries, with just as precisely retrieved contextual objects presented within a usable format, based on better clustering techniques and taking richer and more valuable attributes into account? How would this impact the way we learn and connect to one another?
  • Information domains allow topically defined objects to be rolled up into navigable concepts by users instead of predefined categories by information architects? How could this seamlessly raise the bar for common folk in their efforts to research online? To manage information across numerous domains?
  • Mainstream media articles and blog posts are presented on the same level (query or article), ensuring checks and balances of mis/disinformation, without a partisan bias? How important is it for check and balances to be rooted within the last bastion of traditional governmental checks and balances—the media?

And the great thing is that we’re not too far away from this revolutionary existence.

Blogs are beginning to bridge the social and communication gaps between nations. My peers are thinking differently when developing this medium, even in traditional business development circumstances. The tactical approach to producing, managing, sharing, finding and using information objects — defined from the bottom up — is finally getting it’s due.

Yes, these are tumultuous times, but they’re exciting as well.