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how many webs do we weave?

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Since I signed up for the reboot 8 conference in Copenhagen at the start of June, I’ve been looking at it as a “web 2.0” conference, but hoping it is more than that. What is Web 2.0? Wikipedia offers a useful summary of the history, current situation, and arguments for and against the use of the term. It also includes links to various commentary on the topic.

“Knowledge is organized information”: a motto that may sound simplistic, unless one takes into account the recursive nature of the process: by organizing information you are creating more information. When this process is able to run, and keep running, the results can be startlingly effective. Witness the rise of Wikipedia in the last year, the amount of time and effort that goes into it.

One criticism leveled at Wikipedia is that it is not an authoritative source: this is missing the point altogether. If anything, it is a reflection of the original idea I remember: the use of the Web to make connections between all manner of pieces or information, to let you find the authorative source. The differences in my view, is that it is centralized without (much) bureaucracy. Call it a “clearing house” for information on a topic: you may start there, but you won’t necessarily stop there, not if you are looking for anything authoritative. With that in mind, I’m not sure that it’s completely necessary to refer to Wikipedia as “Web 2.0” at all. Or, to put it another way, could Web 2.0 be seen as the realisation of some (if not all) of the promises (implicit or explicit), made by the World Wide Web, version 1?

One thing I am sure of: Web 2.0, whatever that is, is not a technology or set of technologies. It certainly isn’t AJAX, which I keep running in to whenever a web site refuses to work unless I allow JavaScript to run. (I have scripts blocked by default, because I got sick of all the gimmicks and invasive ads it’s more commonly used for.) No, I see Web 2.0 as a philosophy, or an attitude, that can be summed up in one word: Organization. If Knowledge is organized Information, what do you get when you apply organization to Connections, the basic currency of the Internet? The word I prefer is Context.

How Web 2.0 is Wikipedia? It doesn’t use AJAX, as far as I can see; the Wiki technology it uses is ancient by web standards, but that’s not what it’s about, if you ask me. A Wiki, in principle, is a web page that anyone can edit, a web publication under no strict editorial control. It takes advantage of the boundless brainpower, energy and goodwill offered by people passionate about a subject. Something’s missing or broken? We’ll fix it. It might not be right away – there’s no deadline imposed on me – but it’ll be done, probably quicker than you expect. The result, to me, screams Web 2.0, because it is all about knowledge and context, with added links to the authoritative content where possible.

Can I use the same principles at work? I currently work for a large US technology company, which makes various claims about its technology leadership. Yet, neither the people I work with, nor the company I work for, are remotely ready for Web 2.0, to be blunt. We spend so much of our available brainpower, in coping with the day-to-day stresses of our work, that gathering knowledge is a secondary consideration, and sharing knowledge still further down the list of priorities. I have been trying to encourage some knowledge sharing, using our internal Microsoft Sharepoint service, my colleagues are treating that as a place to post documents to read, and little else. I wish we could get into the relevance of the contents to us, and our work, and be able to summarize it.

Never mind Web 2.0: we’d be hard-pressed to call ourselves Web 1.0, given how hard we have to work to find the basic information we need to do our jobs, in any form, organized or not. The frustration is getting to us, and I’m clearly on the way out of my current role; that much would be clear, even if my job was not on its way to India. If the reboot 8 conference is to be any use to me, it will help me decide whether I have a future in the technology business at all, or if I should become a plumber or a teacher, or go and work with horses in a racing stable.

Written by brian t

April 9, 2006 at 7:11 pm

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