The Pros and Cons of Web 2.0
|Published:||Mar 19, 2006|
I've been noticing a theme in my work habits. I am a perpetual user of many websites. Luckily, the kind folks over at Mozilla and all of the developers who write plug-ins for Firefox keep coming up with ways to make my browsing experience easier and a pleasant one. I rarely have fewer than 6 browser windows open at once, each containing a series of tabs. To keep me organized, each browser window has it's own category, for instance, I have Tucows work related tabs in one window, research on a particular subject that I will post on my blog and my Blogware account open in another window, forums in yet another window and so on. Now, the window I want to talk about is my "Perpetual Usage" window. Each tab in this window displays a website that I do not like to close out of by accident; sites that I deem worthy of perpetual logged-in status.
It surprised me to learn that according to this Webuser article about the research published by Directgov, half of Internet-using Britons visit just six sites or less on a regular basis. While I too have a short list of sites I simply can't bare to live without, I do visit a number of other sites on a regular basis, which is why the article surprised me. I have to wonder how Americans would compare to the Brit's in this regard. At any rate, back to my "Perpetual User" window. Here's a list of the sites I am constantly logged into:
Most of these sites could be considered as Web 2.0 sites. Most, if not all of these sites employ search capabilities, most allow me to share data with other users, and most importantly, help me stay organized and informed. So why all the negative hubbub? With Web 2.0 products, I can quickly find exactly what I'm looking for, I can interact with like-minded individuals and I can access my data at anytime. So how is that bad?
Feeding the Monkey
Allow me to digress a little... I'm a net junkie. If I could tap my veins and pump information into my brain at high speed transfer without suffering any ill physical side effects I would. Having all the information of the Internet at my fingertips was getting a bit daunting because it all seemed wild and untamed. Then the Web 2.0 explosion changed everything for me. What is Web 2.0? It's a buzzword for a new era of Internet user-friendliness. Wikipedia explains "With its allusion to the version numbers that commonly designate software upgrades, Web 2.0 was a trendy way to indicate an improved form of the World Wide Web, and the term has been in occasional use for several years." Annual Web 2.0 conferences recently inspired a technological revolution. Now, don't be a hater of the Web 2.0 boom just because buzzwords make you cringe. Contradictory to some opinions, the Web really needed a make over. Surfers demanded better ways to find the information they wanted. They demanded multimedia the way they wanted it. They demanded a voice and were given one. They demanded better communication, 24 hour Internet access to their data and simplicity fit for a mobile. Developers everywhere scrambled to meet their demands and the majority offer their services for *gasp* you guessed it - free.
So What's Bugging Andrew Keen?
Which is why I must disagree with the majority of Andrew Keen's, Web 2.0 article that paints the boom as cultural Marxism, "'60s radicalism with the utopian eschatology of digital technology."
"The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts. Its empowering promises play upon that legacy of the '60s--the creeping narcissism that Christopher Lasch described so presciently, with its obsessive focus on the realization of the self."
I feel the author fails to recognize that while everyone has the opportunity to speak their mind by blogging, not everyone will be talented, witty, brilliant, funny or interesting enough to hold an audience for long. It's just like when someone chooses to orally express themselves. It usually doesn't take long to realize if no one is listening and they eventually trail off a bit and shut up. In the same token, the reader will not return to a site that offers them nothing of interest, so never fear! All those boring blogs floating around out there will eventually become static. Only the truly gifted and talented will make any major ripples in the pond but that doesn't mean that the mediocre can't enjoy riding the waves, right?
"Without an elite mainstream media, we will lose our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard."
To that I say, retaining knowledge is unique for each individual and it is in the interest of gaining and sharing knowledge that people even use Web 2.0 elements (like RSS feeds that bring them the news filtered to suit the interests of the user). In fact, Web 2.0 may become the stabilizing force in recording history. Online media and data storage corrects the downfalls of faulty and possibly inconsistent memory by creating an archive of hard data. I believe that when given the choice between run-of-the-mill and exceptional, people will choose the exceptional every time. Therefore, there will always be an elite mainstream that draws the masses in with their magnetism. There will always be talented and relevant writers as opposed to those who simply blog about their school life. Even that type of blogging isn't irrelevant because it's storing the day to day events of the common man that historians have never had access to before. Nothing personal against the author, I hear what he's saying, but don't think I share the same view of Web 2.0 products and I certainly don't think that all of the Web 2.0 ideology should be tossed out simply because Mr. Keen seems to have a problem with self-expression. Besides, it's not all as self-reflective and narcissistic as he thinks it to be.
Web 2.0 to My Rescue
For instance, there are some great web applications that really make my life easier by helping me be organized. Thanks to RSS I can be informed of breaking news and the latest technology. I can keep up with the lives and events of my friends and they can keep up with me (OK, maybe it is a tad narcissistic). Thanks to some brilliant developers, I can collaborate with others, share ideas, simplify my searches and have Internet access to my data wherever I may be. Web 2.0 didn't ruin the Internet, it made it more user-friendly and community driven. What's so wrong about that?
When Writely became a subsidiary of Google, my husband pointed out that I might have lost all the documents I had stored in my account. As he put it, they have no obligation to me because I do not pay them for this service. Luckily, Writely allows me to make backups of my information and store them locally, so I wasn't too concerned. His point is still valid though, which is why I mention it here for people to take into consideration. Think about it for a moment, what if the site where you store your personal data is sold to another company? Will that company then have your best interest at heart? What if the servers crash and you lose your valuable information, say your schedule, or your team collaboration project, even if it's only temporarily? What if you lose your Internet connection and therefore cannot access your todo list? Do I even need to mention the word hackers? Any number of things could happen that could put your personal data at risk, so it's important to take that into account before signing up with any web based service. Plan on saving your data locally, take screenshots of your calendars, use sites that have good encryption, and by all means, do not take for granted that your information is safe. This is the Internet, people. The site that you count on today might not be around tomorrow.
John Dvorak of PC Magazine says "Web 2.0 is the latest moniker in an endless effort to reignite the dot-com mania of the late 1990s." As the article continues, he too seems hung up on the buzzwords surrounding the craze but he does make one thing clear: Web 2.0 is an evolution, not a revolution. This I can agree with. Even before the Web 2.0 boom, people were making their own web sites, recording their own music, and sharing their pictures online. It's important to remember that to do so, people had to resort to buying and installing software, software that could usually only be installed on one computer which was very limiting. It is Dvoarak's opinion that Web 2.0 is aimed toward the do-it-yourselfer and that is where I disagree. The way I see it, the new sites are largely built around concepts of community, shared information, ease-of-use and free service. It's just what the people wanted, so that's what developers have given them.
How Can This Stuff Be Free?
The new trend is to give users something for free that their competitors usually charge for. So how do these companies keep giving away services and storage space for free without going under? Well, for starters, serving web pages is pretty inexpensive, so startups can make a profit even if they make only a fraction of a cent per page view. That combined with ever-improving ad-targeting technology means that even free services can be profitable. It makes good sense too. Google Ads have helped revolutionized the modern day Internet by offering targeted ads that are more likely to be clicked upon by visitors. They are generally unobtrusive, which is why visitors don't mind them, which in turn is why developers don't mind having them on their sites. It's good for the end-user, it's good for the developer and its good for the advertiser. It's a win-win-win.
So Where's It All Heading?
It's hard to say at this point because it all seems to be happening so fast! This article was written less than 6 months ago. In it, the author asks who will offer a free web-based alternative to MS Office and asks "How hard can it be?" Now there's ThinkFree Office Online, a free suite of applications that mirror the capabilities of Microsoft Office. That didn't take long at all, did it? Maps, tagging, aggregation, filters, ranking, mashups, syndication... the list goes on and on, but think of how far we've come since the birth of the Internet. In this era, people from all over the world can easily communicate in real time. The power of universal collective intelligence is leading to technological advances that were unthinkable only years ago. In light of this, it seems the sky's the limit so let's keep dreaming shall we?
Stacy Reed is Tucows' resident software librarian and editor. She has been reviewing PC and mobile software as well as web services for over a decade. Helping developers improve and promote their products is only one of her areas of expertise. Stacy is also an advocate for Open Source, Creative Commons and freeware, taking special interest in educational resources, social media, cloud sharing, and mobile technology.