Monday, October 17, 2005

Stop me if you've heard the one about Web 2.0

One of the terms that keeps popping up on blogs, in podcasts and occasionally in more conventional media is Web 2.0. While I've kind of figured out what the term refers to, I admit that exactly what was being discussed remained a bit of a mystery to me.

There is a fairly extensive entry in Wikipedia, and I got this from a Technorati search. (What's Technorati?

But the other day I happened to pick up a copy of Discover Magazine, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special issue. There are a lot of interesting articles in the mag, but one of the pieces that caught my eye was the Emerging Technology column, written by Steven Berlin. The piece is called "Web 2.0 Arrives."

It's a good piece and it helped me understand what's meant by the term. More importantly, I started to get a glimpse of what it means for companies to embrace the idea and how they might begin to gain footholds in this market. The part of the story I liked the best was Berlin's metaphor of the Web 2.0 as a rainforest.

The difference between this Web 2.0 model and the previous one is directly equivalent to the difference between a rain forest and a desert. One of the primary reasons we value tropical rain forests is because they waste so little of the energy supplied by the sun while running massive nutrient cycles. Most of the solar energy that saturates desert environments gets lost, assimilated by the few plants that can survive in such a hostile climate. Those plants pass on enough energy to sustain a limited number of insects, which in turn supply food for the occasional reptile or bird, all of which ultimately feed the bacteria. But most of the energy is lost.

A rain forest, on the other hand, is such an efficient system for using energy because there are so many organisms exploiting every tiny niche of the nutrient cycle. We value the diversity of the ecosystem not just as a quaint case of biological multiculturalism but because the system itself does a brilliant job of capturing the energy that flows through it. Efficiency is one of the reasons that clearing rain forests is shortsighted: The nutrient cycles in rain forest ecosystems are so tight that the soil is usually very poor for farming. All the available energy has been captured on the way down to the earth.

Think of information as the energy of the Web’s ecosystem. Those Web 1.0 pages with their crude hyperlinks are like the sun’s rays falling on a desert. A few stragglers are lucky enough to stumble across them, and thus some of that information might get reused if one then decides to e-mail the URL to a friend or to quote from it on another page. But most of the information goes to waste. In the Web 2.0 model, we have thousands of services scrutinizing each new piece of information online, grabbing interesting bits, remixing them in new ways, and passing them along to other services. Each new addition to the mix can be exploited in countless new ways, both by human bloggers and by the software programs that track changes in the overall state of the Web. Information in this new model is analyzed, repackaged, digested, and passed on down to the next link in the chain. It flows.
There are a lot of very smart people who think that we've only just begun a revolution in how the Web is going to shape the way we live. I'm starting to think they're right.

1 comment:

Paul said...

It just seems like such a daunting task to "upgrade" the World Wide Web, doesn't it? Internet technology has made the world a smaller place. It seems that Web 2.0 may make it that much smaller.