One trend that sci-fi authors, role playing games, movies and multiuser environments have talked about for decades, is finally becoming more and more real.
Examine these parallel trends:
A. Dungeons & dragons / Role playing (non-computer) characters
-> text MUD games players
-> MMORPGs (e.g. Ultima Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft)
-> Non-RPG-based environments (The Sims Online, Second Life)
-> Military Tactical/Strategic representations
-> Telemetry and Remote Imaging
-> Battlefied information systems
-> Robotic military (Remote guided aircraft/UAV, bomb-detection robots, etc.)
C. Heroic Mythology (Greek myth, Viking sagas, Chinese myth)
-> People with secret super-hero identities (Batman, Daredevil, Spiderman)
-> Robotic personas (Voltron, Gundam & Macross series)
-> Virtual worlds (Tron, The Matrix trilogy)
D. User accounts
-> Web home pages
-> individual blogs
-> Group content/documents (wikis, forums, chats, etc.)
-> Spaces (combining Web pages, blogs, other Web 2.0 services)
-> Online personas
While different in form and utility, what it is pointing to is a change in how we perceive our identities in the rise of the online/alternate world.
Call them what you like, your blog, your avatar, your character, your robot, your role in the Matrix... It all points to having a separate identity for yourself in an environment other than the one you live in right now.
I tend to see this as a continuing trend where we will see more and more of ourselves participating in the online world on a regular basis.
However, I also think that people will start making distinctions. Most of us have different faces even in a typical day: there's a similar but distinct persona of you at home, at work, at school, with your family, with your friends, with the government, etc.
They are all you, just different aspects of you. With the online world, it's easier to make those different aspects, or even create new ones based on the online environment.
This comes back to developers in a real way. There is probably a "developer" identity that you put on (some of the time, or even much of the time for others).
What that developer identity needs is a environment of its own. In fact, traditionally we have that too:
> assembly language
-> programming languages
-> compilers & other developer tools
-> integrated development environments
-> online searching
-> online code repositories and exchanges
-> online group projects and identities
The X here is where it all comes together into an online space that is yours and that you have your developer avatar participate in, and that can interact in an online community or virtual world with many other developers.
In this virtual world, we're not talking about a game of fighting other developers (aka WoW style), but in a real sense of getting involved in projects, learning new ideas or meeting new people who are working on things you are interested in. It gives the setting for participating.
Once someone builds that participation environment, you as a developer can suddenly see or be exposed to the many opportunities that lie ahead. This opportunity can translate into dollars and jobs in the real world.
Community and social computing
I'm asked to explain what the Web 2.0 question often enough these days. There are plenty of things that have been put under this umbrella but rather than technologies it is the idea behind it that's most significant.
First of all what's "Web 1.0"?
This generally refers to the state of what the Web was primarily used for: a (mostly) consume-only service to access information. Even with all the many applications surfaced through the Web, the majority of the Web is still site for reading, gathering, and consuming information. The number of consumers is much greater than the number of producers.
To make the distinction, the thought behind "Web 2.0" is to instead make "producers" out of the majority of the users of the Web. Now, users not only visit the Web to gain information but also can contribute to the wealth of information that's out there.
It's a democratization of the Web if you will, allowing people not just to express their thoughts on their work, their lives, their emotions, etc. It is not just creating new written content, but contributing by taking existing data and "remixing" them to produce new content. It is also building application services that can work on data or app services that others produce.
Thus in the new world of "Web 2.0", people become producers of original and remixed data, content, and services.
There are quite a few books coming out around the topic of Web 2.0 and by leading literary minds like Dan Gilmor, and Thomas L Friedman. The topic is related to a number of ideas that can raise a lot of controversy including: freedom of expression, ownership of material produced, the right to use information and services of others, legal liability, and even globalization.
Web 2.0 existed from the very beginning of the Web itself, at least in concept. You could create home pages from very early on and even HTTP had rudimentary means to PUT and POST data. However, it was not until the rise of newer technologies that put it into the hands of the masses, and acknowledged significant impact on real-world issues that it really hit the mainstream.
With such a hotbed of activity, its no wonder that everyone wants to know more about how it applies to what they do:
As with any "gold rush", everyone is out to claim their stake in this. For some this rush is about new software. For others its about making yourself heard (and famous). For yet others, its about connecting with others of like mind.
Some common aspects I've observed:
The rise of Web 2.0 brings a new level of collaboration into the mindsets of the audience. Ideas which were previously taboo, are now actually being considered.
For example, the value of a book is traditionally considered to be in having access to the content of the book itself. For book publishers, this model means: get one or more authors, work on a book, then print and publish the thing, and distribute to bookstores where customers can buy them.
Usually, the ability a person has to examine the contents of the book is usually limited in time (enough time to read some of the book in a store), in content (having access to some portion of the content they can review), or based on the opinion of others.
While not the first, Robert Scoble helped change views while working on his book as a blog, by giving people access to its content while it is being developed online.
This idea is close to my heart and went into the reasoning behind why we needed the developerWorks Books series, and why I helped to start that as part of IBM Press. Somewhere in the following I think is the future of how books can be developed in something that benefits most parties.
It's similar to, although not exactly the same, as "open sourcing" the book since the philosophy of open source does not preclude selling the product. However, if you have access to the contents of the book for free, why would you buy it.
This puts traditional print publishers in a dilemma. Their business is based on selling the product, not giving it away online and hope someone still buys a copy.
To me, both ways seem a little extreme.
Developing a book takes a lot of time and effort and in some topics, by the time you finish writing, a lot may have changed. My guess is that most authors want not only the noteriety but hopefully would also like to get paid from the knowledge they put down. Call me a capitalist, but giving away a year or two of my life to write a book that may become outdated deserves some reward beyond the satisfaction that you've tried to impart some wisdom to the world.
In the fast changing online world, it makes a lot of sense to do some grass-roots promotion of the book by talking about the subject or showing people some of what you have been working on. This is in hopes that later, when you are done writing and editing, people will want to buy the finished product.
Therefore, I think there's a use-case somewhere in between. I say a use-case because I think this is something people will want to do online.
E.g., provide a group of authors with a tool for them to put together a document (say a Wiki), that they can all edit. Develop the outline, and start fleshing out some of the chapters and sections. Then introduce processes between the authors and an editor where they can bring in the editorial process. Then give access to a select audience or even a wide audience to some of the content so you can get some feedback and peer review. Finally, give access to the content and some knowledge about what others think of the book in progress to the book marketing group so they know what it is about and how its doing.
Thus, this package is a specific use-case for book development that involves an online tool for document development, perhaps another tool for discussion, access control to select or public audiences to portions of the content that you choose, ways to measure opinions and traffic to the publicly available/reviewable sections, and then finally a way to transfer the developed content into a format suitable for publishing/printing/distribution.
It involves giving away part of the book for free so that you get a drumbeat going as well as some feedback on coverage. In exchange, you get a better understanding of how the market may receive the work before it is even complete.
The step beyond is where it gets real interesting.
There's no real end to the book, if people are really interested. You could continue working on developing the content, adding new material, and exposing new material to others. You continue to build on a book without having to build a huge business case for a new book or a new edition, unless there really needs to be one.
Paul Dreyfus from our team is helping to make the dW series of books become real and there should be some interesting news coming out this year.
This idea above is so far just my own brainstorming. I doubt it is unique and probably already in force somewhere. It requires the expertise, experience and cooperation of a book publisher, an online publisher, and authors daring enough to try it out. From a Web 2.0 perspective, I think it makes for an interesting approach to team and even community driven content, and brings remixing to a whole new level (between print and online media).
Web 2.0 can give you an advantage to compete against the 1.5 billion people who joined the labor market
Paper is undeniably one of the most lasting technologies the world has ever known. Even now, in the digital age, companies have considered going back to "paper disks" because the medium actually can store data for much longer than magnetic media (50 yrs as opposed to 5-10 yrs). Now imagine what would have happened if more people learned how to use paper to record knowledge, and if that became more prevalent centuries before it became "mainstream".
In reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, I came across a factoid which I thought was interesting (pg 182). There are about 1.5 billion new workers entering the labor force as a result of the flattening of the world and the entrance of new players to the game of globalization (i.e., BRICK countries = Brazil, Russia, India, China, Korea, etc.)
His idea of the three convergences include: convergence into a new playing field (because of the rise of technology), convergence of new players (as above), and new processes (to enable a globalized economy).
The impact of the new technologies not just for data delivery (the net) and content sharing (the Web), but also for collaboration and workflow (the Web 2.0) cannot be understated in this regard.
In other words, to play in a new globalized field, you will need to consider not just what resources are available locally but also remotely in other areas you haven't thought of.
To technology companies, this means that there is a need to closely examine how the collaboration, interaction and workflow tools required for a global environment needs to function. And it's not just the tools, but the ways on how to use them, the human processes and guidelines for interaction, and the pitfalls and traps to avoid.
Inevitably, there will be many different (often competing) technologies and products that will arise to fill this need. Friedman paraphrasing economic historian Paul A. David, there is a historical basis in a lag between the release of these innovations and the rise of proper processes for using these technologies.
For developers, the lesson to learn here is how to take advantage of these tools, understand in context which tools are more useful for their own needs, and encouraging others to adopt the tool.
Printing, for example, was develop many centuries ago in China; however, it was limited, even restricted, in use. If it was more open, I daresay that the world might have been even more technologically advanced that it is now. The same goes for Web 2.0 technologies.
Web 2.0: learn it, use it, and find your global advantage.
I wanted to point out that "use cases" are different than technology implementations in Web 2.0. I've mentioned this before but I really think people need to see the difference between the two points.
An "online diary" is a use case. Lot's of people have them. Before the rise of blog implementations we called them personal home pages. The actual technology evolved over time. There are now videoblogs, photoblogs, etc. but whatever the technology, they are still online diaries.
On the work-level, a "documentation development tool" can be implemented in a great many ways. It could even be implemented in separate application tools (e.g., a forum + a wiki, a workflow app + email + content management system, etc.) There are also many variations of this documentation development tool depending upon the needs. But across all of them the use cases have some common basis.
The idea is to figure out the common/base use cases that are useful and that can be replicated on a common basis such that it can be reused by many. That's where the real challenge lies. Technology after all will always come and go.
For that same reason, I consider the Web 2.0 as a superset of all these use-cases that everyone is so interested in. It is also why "Web 2.0 != blogging", "Web 2.0 != wikis", or any one specific technology. It is the sum of all the ways we interact with the Web under the new common aspects/principles of Web 2.0 (see end of this post).
The Web 2.0 entry on Wikipedia gives a snapshot of the many different technologies and topics that exist around it. Take a look at the image they provide:
From Wikipedia, 2006
The Wikipedia entry focuses more on the technologies behind Web 2.0 although it does give some description of the social impact behind it.
I consider this the difference between looking at the invention of the automobile itself versus what automobile-based transportation has done for the world. E.g., inside and outside a car there are many technological innovations: engine, transmission, electrical controls, ergonomics, safety structure, comfort systems, the highway system, etc.
But the impact of this mode of transportation is much wider: the trucking/containerization/delivery industry, suburbization of society, learning to drive (a right of passage of life for many teenagers), leisure travel, car racing, commuting and even telecommuting, etc. are things that have risen from exploding gas within a metal box to turn gears and push carts.
For that same reason, you can certainly be fascinated by the wonders of cars (I certainly spend many hours watching Speed Channel and reading car magazines), but the real impact of having the automobile is so much more.
I see this same difference in Web 2.0 technologies and the value of Web 2.0 itself.
James Governor of RedMonk has a point in his blog
Wake up IBM: come out from behind developerworks!!!
If it isn't obvious already, developerWorks focuses on a mixed audience of programmers, sysadmins, architects, testors, etc. all those directly involved in the software development lifecycle. Hence, our blogs fall in the same cloud too.
IBMers do have other blogs both on the site and outside, but there isn't an area for "all IBM blogs" externally from the global IBM site yet. Honestly, that falls beyond dW's scope.
Whew! It's getting almost too busy to blog already this early in the year...
Ok, my thoughts on Virtual economies affecting the real world is already starting to happen...
CNet had an article on Julian Dibbell's stance on Are Virtual Assets Taxable?" brings a real question to the face of the Internal Revenue Service, the US authority that taxes everyone (even people who don't live in the US).
Julian's story is on his virtual world of Ultima Online which coincidentally was one of the first graphical MMORPGs I used to play years ago. I spent many hours of my childhood playing the single-player Ultima games, so UO was a godsend.
In any case, the same problem exists as I mentioned before, in most if not all virtual worlds, such assets can be freely created and there is no hard limit to resources. This makes it easy to keep increasing the amout of "space" and "stuff" that's all around you. Continue to sell that virtual stuff for real money essentially amounts to devaluing real dollars.
Everyone considered it an amusing diversion but chuckled because "how many players can there be actually doing that?" According to the CNet article the combined number of players already ranks in the millions and the combined asset value (in terms of fair market value) could be in tens or hundreds of millions.
If you consider the number of online gamers is simply increasing as well as the number of titles, then the possibility for continual growth in that combined asset value is also real. How long before it really matters? Does it matter when that value is in the hundreds of millions now or soon? How about in the billions? Still no? How about in the trillions? Yes, or do you still think it just ridiculous?
This brings up another point in that there are still a limited number of human players. Possibly, but the ability to create in game bots to play for you is becoming more and more intelligent. Just the same, consider those bots, familiars, servants, etc. that are collecting assets for your main character. Now it becomes easier for a (really dedicated) person to amass assets at a faster rate.
Tim O'Reilly's paper on "What is Web 2.0?" brought to mind the issues of individual scale that many companies don't quite get.
Tim's description of why Google's AdSense works because it allows individuals to easily slap an ad onto their sites rather than the more complicated process of DoubleClick that requires formal contracts and agreements, gives one example of the power of mass of individuals.
The blogosphere's population of many individuals talking about different topics, rather than large PR teams in organizations, are starting to make a greater difference; ie. another example
The ability to remix applications, content and data in Web 2.0 for your own personal use gives yet another example.
The common ideas across all of these that I can see are:
- individuals (as opposed to whole companies/organizations) matter in Web 2.0
- the ability to work on things on a small or even personal scale (as opposed building applications for whole organizations) also matter
- the organizations that are built to focus on large customers rather than individuals may be missing out on Web 2.0.
My point is that to take a stance on Web 2.0 you have to think about empowering the individual not just big business partners, and large customers.
This is the ever ellusive "SMB" market (small-medium business) that more big companies are starting to take notice of. But this SMB goes even smaller down the scale to individual customers. I'd even call it the "SSB" (super-small business).
Now the question of whether this is something that works only for the mass/retail customer rather than organizations as a whole is still something everyone is trying to understand.
Scenario: a developer in an organization is looking for a particular item (content, data, or service), and finds it on the net somewhere to help complete their job task. Is that worth it to a supplier when the cost of offering that item
may not be very high? That is, what would make companies consider selling millions tiny widgets at $0.10 rather than one big widget to one customer for $10M?
The classic argument why some companies don't focus on mass sales at an almost retail level is the cost of offering that product is usually quite high, leaving low margins.
That would be perfectly true for a physical item that requires proper warehousing, distribution, retailing, sales tracking, mass advertising, etc.
Now consider pure-online products that can be delivered over the network. Are all those costs still true? Is there still this barrier of high cost overheads to produce something of the sort?
Companies geared to sell expensive goods to large customers may be so locked into their sales model that offering small scale services to many individuals just doesn't seem very appetizing.
That's a substantial mental hurdle for some organizations to overcome in Web 2.0.
PS: If you're thinking that going down to the SSB scale just sounds crazy, think again about the successes of Google, eBay and Amazon, and not just for retail customers but for their business partners, and their whole community of users.