On Web 2.0, application uses YOU!
25 March 2006
Most of what separates Web 2.0 from pre-Web
2.0 is not really about the web. Paul Graham writes
that Web 2.0 is about three things: AJAX, Democracy,
and Don't Maltreat Users.
Democracy here means
using users to collect decision-making information,
such as evaluating whether something is worth reading
or buying, for other users. Yes, visitors come to
your site to get value that other users brought to it.
Tim O'Reilly writes
that Web 2.0 is about constantly improving software
that's available as a service; mixing data from
multiple sources, including users; offering your own
data and services in a flexible, mixable way; and
going beyond the page metaphor (which sounds like
AJAX to me.)
Anyway, the key part of being Web 2.0 is that you're building value from many small information contributions that users don't mind making. Every user whitewashes a little bit of the fence. Paul Graham points out that Google is a good example of this. When I say great burritos in San Francisco, Google uses my link-making work (and that of others) to amass awesome burrito (and other thing)-recommending power and rule the world. And I like it because I want my favorite San Francisco burrito place to succeed.
When people put geographical directions up using microformats, someone will crawl them and string the route decisions together to get a directions search engine with common sense (because it borrowed the common sense of millions of users) that doesn't tell people to make an illegal left into oncoming traffic, the way a certain map site used to tell me to leave my old house every day. (70mph combined speed motor vehicle slalom! Yaaaaahooooo!)
Where AJAX fits into all this is that you're snarfing one reputation information unit per click, quickly, instead of waiting for a whole page to render to suck the value out of the user's head into your MySQL cluster where it becomes valuable. And you have to let users pull data back out and mix it, since that creates attention incentives for other users to push data in.
So far this Web 2.0 stuff sounds like it's all about web sites. How can companies that aren't basically web sites or mail-order catalogs be Web 2.0? Some already are. Remixed FedEx lately? Download their sample code and try their API.
Hold on a second—you don't have to be a FedEx
partner to do that? No, and that's the first
concrete difference between Web 2.0 and non-Web-2.0
companies. From a pre-2.0 point of view, the partner
program is what enables companies to interact
with you. Start thinking 2.0, though, and the
partner program looks more and more like pointless
bureaucracy that keeps non-
partner companies out.
Just as you want Googlebot to crawl your product
pages, (and some of you will go flame Matt Cutts if
it doesn't) you want any company whose stuff can plug
into yours to try your API.
You could probably do a pretty reliable Web-2.0-or-not-o-meter based on dates in the RSS feed for API announcements vs. dates in press releases matching /partner/i.
What next? Larry Augustin points out that sales and marketing accounts for 82 percent of new software license revenue. Ouch! Let's throw some Web 2.0 magic at that number. And I don't mean the sales part. The web, together with open source licensing, easy-to-demo ASP, and virtualization, is already taking a huge chunk out of the sales side.
But a huge, expensive part of software marketing is involved in information gathering, too. It's really expensive to hire Software Marketing people to gather requirements from users, write big word processor documents full of what the users want, and show each other Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, then tie up the developers showing them again.
Within organizations, we know all about using
Extreme Programming and other
that replace the obsolete-as-soon-as-finished
process. But often, as soon as projects
cross organizational lines, we're back to the
kind of thing that with-it software people rightly
make fun of.
Where web sites are concerned, Web 2.0 took the
excellent idea of
APIs from software developers and
gave them to the webmasters. In off-web businesses,
it's taking development methodologies from
the developers and giving them to marketing people.
But how do you know what to build when the Big Dumb Word Processor Document of What To Build is gone? This is where it gets fun. The customers are already telling you what they want, if you know how to listen to them. Web 2.0 companies are concentrating on building the place for that conversation to take place, instead of writing the damn document themselves. You get better, faster, cheaper when you lose the waterfall.
After all, some users will sit still for Focus Groups and other 20th-century marketing, but even if they do, you're stuck dealing with the resulting data yourself. Canonical Ltd. takes the specification process where Google takes the search result ranking process—outside the company as much as possible. That doesn't mean that random users design Canonical's products for it, any more than search engine spammers define Google results. But in Web 2.0 you get the users to whitewash the fence.
There's some overlap between being a
Web 2.0 company
and being an
open source one. Here's where I think
Web 2.0 goes further than open source. If open source
is trees, Web 2.0 is hemp. Instead of harvesting big
particpation from a committed developer, tester, user,
partner, or customer, you get a small quantity of
fiber per transaction, fast, and you do a lot of them.
I think there's a limit to how far pure
conversationality and social software can take
this, and that we're going to have to get hairier
tools such as prediction markets. But Web 2.0
unplugged from the web can take us a lot further,
faster, than the alternatives can, and, especially in
the area of business software, companies are
already using it.