May 14, 2006
In Tim O’Reilly’s UC Berkely Commencement Speech, he finally provided the best definition for what “Web 2.0” stands for:
[T]he users of successful internet applications supply their intelligence. A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.
It’s for this reason that I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.
He goes on to include Amazon and Ebay–two companies usually not associated with “Web 2.0” because they don’t have all the right technological buzzwords–in this class of true “Web 2.0” companies, because they get better the more people use them. Well done.
After all this time, we have a believable definition: something we can stand behind, something to motivate our actions beyond today’s buzzwords. A definition like this, if it caught on, might just motivate every employee of every company. Because, if the products you’re working on aren’t harnessing the intelligence of its customers and members, sooner or later you’re going to start asking “Why not?” (Which is much more powerful than, “Hey boss, why aren’t we using AJAX?”)
Another important characteristic of “Web 2.0” companies, says O’Reilly, is the nature of branding:
The users not only provide the content, they provide the marketing. These sites have become hugely popular without spending a nickel on advertising, because they rely on word of mouth.
Why is this more important than your average teenager wearing a Gap-branded tee, or a Nike-branded shoe? Because they’re not saying, “Ooh! Ooh! This company is cool!” or “Look at me! I’m a cool kid now!” It’s more akin to an arcade that always has the latest games that nobody else in town has. Except that arcades are escapist, and aren’t going to help you score higher, perform better, know more, or be a better friend. Nor will you be able to hawk your wares, or demonstrate your strengths, or leverage a business opportunity.
So how do you harness the collective intelligence of your users? Technology (pattern recognition) and marketplaces.
O’Reilly concludes with the “dream big” mantra typical of commencement speeches, but, in this case, it’s well-founded and utterly motivational.