Web 2.0 Ain’t About the Technology

By | October 3, 2007

Scoble makes some good points in a blog posting about why Microsoft, and more specifically his old boss Steve Ballmer, doesn’t get Web 2.0. I don’t agree with everything Robert says, but he has an understanding of this era of the web born of living and working in its eye the past seven years:

“There can’t be any more deep technology in Facebook than what dozens of people could write in a couple of years. That’s for sure,” Ballmer said.

When I worked at Microsoft I heard this over and over and over again from various engineers and program managers who STILL haven’t competed effectively with WordPress, Flickr, Skype, YouTube, or any of the other things over the years I’ve heard this “we can build that in a few weeks” kind of arrogant attitude attached to.

Why aren’t they succeeding? Because eBay is NOT about the technology. It’s about the community and unless you have something that’ll convince the buyers and sellers all to switch all at one moment you’ll never be able to take eBay’s market away. Translation: it’s too late and eBay has huge defensibility around its business because people won’t move away from it even if you demonstrate 5x better technology.

I think Scoble fuses two different phenomena here, but the point is a valid one. But a marketplace is not quite the same as a community. eBay is not really about the community, it’s about the marketplace. As anyone who has tried to move a physical market — a wet market, say — from one location to another has found, it’s not easy. eBay (and Amazon) are about first mover advantage. If you want to sell or buy something, you go to the place most likely to sell it.

Facebook et al are different. They’re definitely about community. But community is maybe the wrong word, because it carries with it connotations of permanence that don’t really exist. MySpace, Facebook etc may still be as big in a few years’ time, but somehow I doubt it. They’re social spaces that open and close like real spaces — less communities, more campsites. Campsites may be there for years, but the structures are impermanent and can, one day, move or disperse.

I agree with Robert, too, that people who use these services ain’t just kids. That’s the most interesting thing about Facebook, in my view: the Skype-like opening up to less techie, older users because of the untechie attractions of being able to find and communicate with acquaintances and ex-colleagues with whom they share loose ties.

Social networking has broken out of its narrow confines, and this has huge implications. But we should be careful before we assume that this will evolve in the same way social networking has evolved for the geek community: these new users won’t stick around for ever adding apps of less and less consequence and communicating with all their buddies via Facebook.

Eventually, everyone finds everyone they need to find on Facebook and bores of the services designed to keep them there. Then they’ll want to export the address book and the creative capital they’ve invested in Facebook and move it someplace else. If they are blocked from doing that, their interest in such tools will quickly wane. We geeks are happy to populate new social networks by repeating all the data entry necessary to make the sites worthwhile, but non-tech users will be less patient (or actually have lives offline.) For them it’s about the people; the apps are just a pleasant distraction.

Then there’s the money. Robert is right: Facebook is an advertiser’s dream. But it has yet to be proven that Facebook users (and we’re talking non-tech users here) are going to tolerate too much intrusiveness. Gmail has scared a lot of non-tech users away, based on anecdotal evidence, because of its intrusive ads. I think Facebook will similarly scare people away if it mines that user data too deeply.

This all said, it is a puzzle as to why Microsoft has ignored this new world. All its tools beg for greater interactivity and sharing, but why is it I use Microsoft only when I’m typing this (the free Windows Live Writer), or when I’m writing a Word document, or emailing it to someone? If I want to discuss the document, or collaborate on a spreadsheet, I turn to Google Docs. Nowhere does Microsoft try to make that process easier or more social. Think of all the opportunities missed in those simple actions.

Steve Ballmer still doesn’t understand social networking « Scobleizer

7 thoughts on “Web 2.0 Ain’t About the Technology

  1. Danny

    Can I make you grind your teeth Jeremy ?

    To my mind, there is no “Web 2.0”

    Ok, the term is employed to refer to the unilateral to bilateral interaction of the web, and I agree to put a name on things.

    But really, to me “Web 2.0” is either too much or too few.

    I began surfing the web in 1998, it’s going to be 10 years next December, and what I see is :

    Old school web = Money, Porn (sorry but yes, a lot), knowledge sharing, popups adds.

    Web 2.0 = Money, Porn, knowledge sharing, google adds + it’s more interactive.

    It’s more interactive but hell it was meant to be like that. I remember back in the days, how many freewares and sharewares were available to make and publish your own website.

    What are social networking sites if not a huge feature-added mailing list ?

    It’s now growing at lightspeed because many of the main actors on the web have understood that the user is lazy an wants a easy access-everything. But it was meant to be like this.

    And already Web 2.0 is fading away.
    The new free minded alternatives of yesterday are turning into money monsters (look at google), only Wikipedia seems to escape it.

    Where is the add free alternative network I’ve been hearing about something like 5 years ago ?

    Of course there have been revolutions. The multimedia side of it is now really impressively integrated, and users can now share information with minimum effort.

    But does “Users have learnt to use the web with the help of some tools” qualifies as Web 2.0 ?

    Again, it’s just about semantics, I just don’t like the name 😛

  2. cat

    This is interesting. I also recall you saying the novelty will last less than a year, maybe 6 months.

    I admit it is the apps and how I can use them that’s kept me addicted to FB. (Even though the mash up of certain apps frustrates ie. Top Friends insist I use SuperWall if I want to fully utilise Top Friends app. It shows its inflexibility in some cases).

    FB isnt just a social network anymore. It can be a productivity/collaboration/communication,(distributon and marketing?) tool ie. Upcoming, 30 Boxes, Notes, Events, Skype, IM, Twitter, Jaiku, G etc… I wonder what’s to stop it really?

    What’s to stop it from adding more relevant and useful apps ie. what Plaxo or LinkedIn tries to implement, FB probably can do it, or already has done it.

    And if social network sites are still popping up or still in existence ie. MySpace, I would ask myself why not a web service like FB and its mashup of apps that can possibly and quite easily replace the above?

    And if I already spend 75% of my mobile online time on mobile FaceBook, I cant imagine what will happen if they manage to mobilise even 1/4 of all the apps they have on there!

  3. Anonymous

    Cat, thanks for this. You have a good point; I think Facebook could become a sort of portal of other social apps. But I’d respectively suggest that you’re in the techie camp, and your usage of FB is more akin to an early adopter than a nontechie user, where FB’s growth is coming from.

  4. Intellagirl

    Great post! I just want to address one aspect: advertising in FB. I think what folks are missing is an understanding that advertising has changed. Rather than thinking about what sidebar and banner ads you can buy, advertisers need to start thinking about how to create a community of avid users/buyers around their products. You don’t do that with a banner on FB; you do it with a great app that entertains, brings people together, and just happens to mention your product in some way.

    Companies have to learn more about creating conversations (between the company and their consumers and between consumers) if they want to survive in a very media-savvy market. I can completely ignore a sidebar ad or a list of featured links. I just don’t see them because I know I’m not interested. I expect to be more engaged and better understood than that and I don’t think that’s a “techy” perspective any more.


  5. Charlie Ballard

    Great post. Love the campsite comparison, though part of what you’re missing about Facebook’s present but likely short-term success is that social network sites have a limited lifespan *because* they’re social. A more apt comparison is that they’re like that snazzy new bar that just opened down the street. Yeah, it looks cool, all your friends are heading out there, why aren’t you going there, are you not cool? But after awhile you start to realize that the place is getting kinda stale, and there’s a newer, cooler bar down the street, where your trendier friends have already started going instead. eBay will exist forever because it serves a direct purpose that it serves very well, and incrementally better technology won’t make a real difference to its users. Facebook serves a purpose that is only valuable as long as it’s still cool, and as everyone knows, coolness has a short shelf life.

  6. Michael

    A quick note on eBay first… It is more of a community than you realize. The user/seller ratings enable transactions between total strangers, and that is huge.

    Imagine somebody in New York placing an ad in the LA Times for selling their used iPod for $50. All you have to do is send them the money and they’ll send you the iPod. Would anybody actually just put $50 in an envelope and send it off? No way. That’s exactly the kind of transaction that eBay’s community enables.

    As for Facebook and MySpace, part of their business plan is that their users won’t want to move their data/network to another social network. They can’t be the new hotness forever, and they realize that. They want to use inertia to safeguard them against competitors. That’s how they become more than campsites. They have a critical mass that prevents people from defecting. At some point most users will have too much data, too many friends in a single network to ever move to another.

  7. William Hill

    Health 2.0 is derived from the term Web 2.0, which implies a 2nd generation/release of the Internet.

    The ‘2.0’ part was established within computer programming – as a new edition of a an application is released, it is common practice for the programmers to add an incrementing number at the end of a program’s name, to label the new version.

    Web 2.0 implies the ‘2nd release’ of the Internet, which of course is not based on anything concrete. The Internet being made up of millions upon millions of interconnecting computers running lots of various programs, but is more of a concept to describe the type of programs/applications/functionality one can now locate on the Internet.

    The Internet was initially complied of mainly static pages of data. Soon to follow was email, web forums and chat rooms where discussions could take place. Web 2.0 refers to a trend on the Internet that saw a step forward in the way users conduct communication over the Internet, which includes the use of blogs, videos, podcasts, wikis and online communities where people with common interests get together to share ideas, media, code and all types of information.

    Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking, blogs, patient communities and online tools for search and self-care management look as though they will permanently alter the healthcare landscape indefinitely.

    As with Web 2.0, there is a lot of debate about the meaning of the term ‘health 2.0’. The Wall Street Journal recently attempted to define Health 2.0 as:

    “The social-networking revolution is coming to health care, at the same time that new Internet technologies and software programs are making it easier than ever for consumers to find timely, personalized health information online. Patients who once connected mainly through email discussion groups and chat rooms are building more sophisticated virtual communities that enable them to share information about treatment and coping and build a personal network of friends. At the same time, traditional Web sites that once offered cumbersome pages of static data are developing blogs, podcasts, and customized search engines to deliver the most relevant and timely information on health topics.”

    While this traditional view of the definition imputes it as the merging of the Web 2.0 phenomenon within healthcare. I personally believe it’s so much more. In my opinion, Health 2.0 goes way beyond just the permeant social networking technology to include a complete renaissance in the way that Healthcare is actually delivered and conveyed.

    Source – http://rxpop.com/


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