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Pew: Web 2.0 Is Web 1.0

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Pew Internet and American Life Project released a six-page analysis of Web 2.0, attempting to define, exactly, what types of Internet applications the phrase covers. The end result: like porn, we know Web 2.0 when we see it; and Web 2.0 has been here since Web 1.0.

Pew: Web 2.0 Is Web 1.0
Can You Define Web 2.0?

Mary Madden and Susannah Fox, the authors of the report (PDF), referred to the phrase as “a catch-all buzzword that people use to describe a wide range of online activities and applications.”

Readers are reassured that it is most certainly okay “if you’ve heard the term and nodded in recognition, without having the faintest idea of what it really means.”

This of course, makes the report a tutorial for those just tuning in.

The conceptual umbrella of Web 2.0, coined by Dale Dougherty and spread virally by O’Reilly Media, includes anything that might be construed as the “participatory Web.” Though similar to the usenets of the mid-nineties, Web 2.0 includes recent phenomena like blogs, wikis, and social networking sites. We may also add podcasts and vlogs to the mix as well.

Those in the O’Reilly camp have outlined a loose set of defining characteristics, many of which are arguably 1.0, or non-inclusive of some aspects of the concept:

1. Utilizing collective intelligence (usenets and forums already did this)
2. Providing network-enabled interactive services (again, not really new)
3. Giving users control over their own data (but as illustrated time and time again, Google and other indexers don’t give the option to delete)

One great point taken:

Technology writers and analysts have, in fact, devoted countless hours to the meta-work of using Web 2.0 applications (blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) to debate and refine the definition of the term. Still, there has been little consensus about where 1.0 ends and 2.0 begins. For example, would usenet groups, which rely entirely on user-generated content, but are not necessarily accessed through a Web client, be considered 1.0 or 2.0?


So with the nebulous definition, which proves useful to those who need to use the label for convenience or hype-purposes, what is it exactly that makes an application Web 2.0? Is it the so-called “wisdom of crowds” (which also has its limitations as blogswarms repeatedly destroy the original intent – thank you Nietzsche, thank you Aristotle, thank you Shakespeare)?

How do you sell Web 2.0 if you don’t really know how to tell someone about it beyond that it includes blogs, wikis, MySpace, Flickr, Digg, file-sharingwell, maybe that’s enough to sell it. Account balances and stock prices do a lot of that selling without the marketing department.

So rather than split hairs over what exactly separates Web 2.0 from Web 1.0, Pew went on to measure what the crowd is doing with a meme that is hard to define, but is obvious when seen, and to what extent.

In 2001, only 20 percent of Internet users (23 million American adults) had used an online service to develop or display photos. By 2005, 49 million, or 34 percent had done this. Wikipedia, “one of the poster children for Web 2.0,” which allows the public to edit articles on any number of subjects, has soared in usage, well beyond traditional encyclopedias like Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Like Soylent Green, these definitive applications are, as blogger Ross Mayfield recently noted, ‘made of people.’ But more than that, they’re made of young people.”

Even if that gives a glimpse into Internet future, Pew reports that sending and reading email is still the number one reported Internet activity, with 53 percent of adults emailing on a daily basis, nearly the same (52 percent) as in 2000. Emailing beats search activities by 15 percent, leaving the activity king of the Net, just as it was ten years ago.

The authors also try to reconcile a description of Geocities taken from the homepage in December 1996:

We have more than 200,000 individuals sharing their thoughts and passions with the world, and creating the most diverse and unique content on the Web.


Madden and Fox rightfully suggest that if you replace 200,000 with 100 million, you might as well be describing MySpace. So, if their logic is to be believed, what we have in 2006 is roughly similar to what we had in 1996, only faster, more personalized and more diverse.

In short, instead of an altogether new incarnation, we have Web 1.0 all grown up.

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