Conflicting views on Web 2.0

Back in 2006 [source], the impact of Web 2.0 on surfing behavior was already being debated.

"Web 2.0 sites have often been dismissed as just a passing fad but a recent survey by Comcast shows user-generated content to be a real money spinner. Web sites using Web 2.0 methods and user-generated content (UGC) are proving to be some of the most successful and fastest growing websites in the UK. Digital media measurement company comScore World Metrix has released an analysis of UK Internet users' activity from July 2005 to July 2006, and many of the leading sites are sites that feature mainly free, user-generated content.

.... "Web 2.0 is clearly architected for participation, as it attempts to harness the collective intelligence of Web users," commented Bob Ivins, managing director of comScore Europe. Many of the sites experiencing the fastest growth today are the ones that understand their audience's need for expression and have made it easy for them to share pictures, upload music and video, and provide their own commentary, thus stimulating others to do the same. It is the classic network effect at work."

More recently (a bit late?), The BBC [source] reported that the Web 2.0 "wave" is starting to take hold. This article suggests that Web 2.0 is allowing browsers to become more utilitarian, like the ancient artifacts of packaged computer programs, once purchased, boxed and shrink-wrapped, in shops that you visited in person.

"In a basic way it demonstrates how web browsers are gradually being used by consumers for far more than just looking around in cyberspace. As people gravitate to the internet for more and more free services and solutions the web browser could become the central window through which our daily lives are conducted, potentially replacing most desktop applications. Software giants like Microsoft and Adobe have been launching their own online applications, some of which resemble their well-known retail titles. Adobe has released a stripped-down web version of its video editing software, called Remix, and later this year plans to launch an internet version of its very successful photo manipulation program, Photoshop.

... I think they are genuinely trying to figure out how to make this work, because they know it's going to be a big part of their companies in 10 years. .... Docs and Spreadsheets is [sic] a product that most consumers could happily use instead of Microsoft Office, with multi-user, location free [sic] collaboration being an added benefit. .... One incentive for companies to supply online software is compatibility. In one go, all customers can be upgraded to the newest version and create files that are universally compatible, unlike different generations of Word documents. "So the companies really like it, and it's to the companies' advantage for the software to work extremely well and for you to use it all the time because then they get more information and then they can sell you more stuff." To older users of desktop applications, who are usually more cautious about their online activity, this might seem disconcerting, but for younger computer users, the MySpace generation who freely flaunt the details of their personal lives, it might be not be such a big deal.

I think this brings up some decent concerns along with the benefits of online programs. It is true that there is a great marketing potential for companies, and a greater usability potential for consumers, especially with compatibility issues. It is likely, however, that companies like Adobe and Microsoft will continue to offer only watered-down versions of their popular programs online. As for Google, I have to say that I perused their online word processing software some time ago, but chose to remain with my reliable Microsoft Word. I suppose I am one of the older (out-dated?) Internet users more weary of making insecure material which I would rather keep private.

The variable definition of Web 2.0 makes this post difficult. I attribute the label 'Web 2.0' to sites which run by UGC in that it involves some kind of community-based user interactivity. Using a word processor online wouldn't really constitute an aspect of Web 2.0 unless the documents were made public, possibly with tagging capability? I suppose that is the difficulty with labelling rapidly changing elements like the Internet. There is too much crossover for any terminology to stick around for too long.

At any rate, within a few days of the BBC post, I read an article which claims that Web 2.0 is failing to impress users.

A Report from Hitwise shows that only a tiny proportion of visitors to so-called Web 2.0 sites actually participate in the information sharing or user-generated content process. Web 2.0, the current internet buzz term for collaborative web sites that allow for some degree of user-generated content, is proving to be far less of a draw for web users than the hype suggests, a study has showed. A tiny 0.16 percent of visits to Google's top video-sharing site, YouTube, are by users seeking to upload video for others to watch, according to a study of online surfing data by Bill Tancer, an analyst with web audience measurement firm Hitwise. Similarly, only two-tenths of one per cent of visits to Flickr, the popular photo-gallery site owned by Yahoo, are to upload new photos, the Hitwise study found. The vast majority of visitors are the online equivalent of the television generation's couch potatoes - voyeurs who like to watch rather than create, Tancer's statistics show. [source]

But is this actually surprising? Well before the days of 'Web 2.0', how many Internet users made their own websites, and how many just visited other websites? Even more archaic an example, how many people write their own books and how many would visit a library to read one? I therefore think that the statistics presented in the article do not actually support that argument that Web 2.0 is failing to impress users.

Which leads to the question, how does one define a Web 2.0 user and in what way does that differ from an Internet user?

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