July 4, 2007

WEB 2.0: Blessing or curse?

The Web 2.0 is part of our online life for less than two years but it has already become the subject of debate and controversy. This while there is not even agreement as to what exactly this term means. For most people the Web 2.0 puts in a nutshell a fuzzy collection of new, amazing types of online applications that share all or some basic traits: they are build on open source software platforms, are subject to continuous transformation and improvement involving - often based on voluntary efforts of the online users - but most importantly they are open to user-provided content and public editing. The Web 2.0 enthusiasts talk about democratization of technology, citizen journalism and customer empowerment, the skeptics talk about a tsunami of nonsense, dubious commercial interests, triumph of mediocrity, voyeurism or even see it as a threat for our culture and civilization. Andrew Keen has just published a polemic book on the subject arguing about the effects of social networks and sites like Wikipedia and YouTube.com on our intellectual, cultural and social fabric. The staggering rate of growth of weblogs (75.000 new blogs are published per day according to Technorati), podcasts, bulletin boards, communities, collaborative publishing/wikis and other customer generated content sites reminds to many the glorious days of the Internet gold rush of the late 90’s, with a small difference: now it is the user rather than the business the main driver of this growth. Another difference with the previous Web (or Web 1.0) wave: Incumbent businesses are much quicker in jumping on the Web 2.0 train than before; according to the 2007 McKinsey survey on Internet technologies already 32% of the companies surveyed invest in blogs, 33% in Wikis, 35% in podcasts, 35% in RSS, 37% in social networking and 47% in peer-to-peer networking. The question for many is whether we have to be happy or bleak about these developments and most importantly what is the essence and effects of the Web 2.0: Is it a blessing or a curse for our culture? Is it a sustainable and value-adding development or just another hype? Putting all enthusiasm and criticism in context I think that the truth will be found somewhere in the middle. What exactly is the middle? More about it in one of my next posts.

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