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"Mobile Web 2.0" – How Web 2.0 Impacts Mobility & Digital Convergence

Ajit Jaokar Asks a Series of Questions Based On His Understanding of Web 2.0 and Mobility

To understand web 2.0, I am going to mainly use Tim O Reilly’s original article alongwith other references from the web as linked.

The Seven Core Principles of Web 2.0 Revised
As I understand them, according to the article, a Web 2.0 service should have as many of the following seven core characteristics as possible. I have outlined these principles partly as a foundation for subsequent discussions but also for my own clarification. Please refer the original link as above for more details.

1. The Web As Platform

Software as a service is data plus software:

A Web 2.0 service is a combination of software and data. The term ‘web as a platform’ is not new. Netscape used this term first but the Netscape application (i.e. browser) was created in context of the existing ecosystem (‘WebTop’ instead of ‘desktop’ mirroring the famous ‘horseless carriage’ analogy). While Netscape was still ‘software’ – in contrast, Google is software plus a database. Individually, the software and the database are of limited value – but together they create a new type of service. In this context, the value of the software lies in being able to manage the (vast amounts of) data. The better it can do it, the more valuable the software becomes.

Harnessing the ‘long tail’: The term ‘long tail’ refers to the vast number of small sites that make up the web as opposed to the few ‘important’ sites. This is illustrated by the ‘double-click vs. adsense/overture’ example. The DoubleClick business model was not based on harnessing the vast number of small sites. In contrast, it relied on serving the needs of a few large sites (generally dictated by the media/advertising industry). In fact, their business model actively discouraged small sites(through mechanisms like formal sales contracts). In contrast, anyone can set up an adsense/overture account easily. This makes it easier for the vast number of sites(long tail) to use the service(ad sense/overture).

In general, Web 2.0 systems are geared to harness the power of a large number of casual users who often contribute data implicitly as opposed to a small number of users who contribute explicitly. Tags are an example of implicit contribution. Thus, the Web 2.0 service must be geared to capturing ‘many implicit/metadata contributions from a large number of users’ and not a small number of contributions from a few ‘expert’ users.


2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence

In this context, collective intelligence can mean many things:

Yahoo! as an aggregation of links
Google page mark
Blogging
Tagging and collective categorisation for example flickr and del.icio.us
eBay buyers and sellers
Amazon reviews
Wikipedia

And so on ...

All of the above are metadata/content created by users that collectively adds value to the service(which as we have seen before is a combination of the software and the data).

Harnessing the collective intelligence involves understanding some other aspects like peer production, the wisdom of crowds and the network effect.

Peer production as defined by the professor Yochai Benkler’s seminal paper peer production . A concise definition from wikipedia is a new model of economic production, different from both markets and firms, in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the internet) into large, meaningful projects, largely without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation.

The wisdom of crowds – as discussed in the book wisdom of crowds by James Surowiecki whose central idea is that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

And finally, network effects from user contributions. In other words, the ability for users to add value (knowledge) easily and then the ability for their contributions to flow seamlessly across the whole community – thereby enriching the whole body of knowledge. A collective brain/intelligence of the blogosphehe if you will – made possible by RSS. A living, dynamic entity not controlled by a single entity.


3. Data is the Next Intel Inside

We have seen previously that a Web 2.0 service combines function (software) and data (which is managed by the software). Web 2.0 services inevitably have a body of data (Amazon reviews, eBay products and sellers, Google links). Thus, it’s very different to a word processor for example – where we are selling only software (and no data).

Data is the key differentiator. In most cases, the company serving the data (for example Google) also ‘owns’ the data (for example information about links). However, that may not always be the case. In case of Google maps , Google does not own the data. Mapping data is often owned by companies such as NavTech and satellite imagery data is owned by companies like Digital Globe. Google maps combine data from these two sources(at least).

Taking the ‘chain of data’ further, sites like housing maps are a mashup between Google maps and craigslist. The more difficult it is to create the data, the more valuable it is(for example satellite images are valuable). In cases where data which is relatively easy to create, the company providing the most useful service and hitting critical mass will be valuable.


4. End of the Software Release Cycle

Web 2.0 services do not have a software release cycle. While Google reindexes its link indices every day, Microsoft releases a major software release every few years. That’s because there is no ‘data’ in windows 95, windows XP etc. It’s pure software. Not so with Google. Google is data plus software. It has to reindex its ‘data’ every day else it loses its value. Thus, operations are critical to a web 2.0 company. There is no ‘release’ as such. The flip side of this coin is – there are widespread beta releases and users are treated as co-developers.


5. Lightweight Programming Models

Distributed applications have always been complex to design. However, distributed applications are central to the web. Web services were deemed to be the mechanism to create distributed applications easily. But web services, in their full incarnation using the SOAP stack, are relatively complex. RSS is a simpler(and quicker) way to achieve much of the functionality of web services.

Simpler technologies like RSS and AJAX are the driving force behind web 2.0 services as opposed to the full fledged webservices stack using mechanisms like SOAP. These technologies are designed to syndicate rather than orchestrate(one of the goals of web services). They are thus opposite to the traditional corporate mindset of controlling access to data. They are also designed for reuse. Reuse in the sense of reusing the service and not the data(i.e. they make it easier to remix the service).

Finally, innovation becomes a case of mixing (cobbling together) services existing services – something which we talked about in OpenGardens in the mobile context.


6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device

The sixth principle i.e. ‘Software above the level of a single device’ – is an obvious staring point when we think of the impact of web 2.0 on mobility and telecoms. At one level, the whole of the ‘new’ web should be transparent and accessible across any device. Indeed a browser is the least common denominator in all mobile data devices - and that’s a sobering thought. But there is more to the sixth principle than merely access via the browser.

iTunes leverages data(music) through the service and provides some data management/metadata functions. The mobile device has the potential to act as a significant reporter of data rather than a mere consumer of data. This data, like all web 2.0 services, may be implicit or explicit. This point will be a significant area for discussion in the next two articles.

7. Rich User Experiences

While mechanisms like RSS are being used to syndicate the content of web sites out to a much wider audience, the user experience at the client itself is undergoing a dramatic improvement. The collection of technologies driving this enhanced user experience is Ajax popularised by Jesse James Garrett in the AJAX essay

AJAX is being used in services like gmail, Google maps and Flickr and it already provides the technology to create a seamless user experience combing many discrete services. The impact of RSS and AJAX is to create a service spanning content from many sites. To the user, this is a single, transparent experience. Effectively, content is being freed from its original container. Instead of the user going to the content(as in a user navigating to a web site), the content is going to the user(through RSS). Technologies like AJAX are making it easier for users to create the glue which binds the various content sources(RSS) together.

Summary of Part One

This article has laid the groundwork for the next two articles. It was an introduction to Web 2.0 and a series of initial questions which came to my mind when discussing the interplay between Web 2.0 and mobility. My objectives, as I have stated, are to extend Tim’s seven principles to mobility and digital convergence. I welcome your comments and questions and I shall answer them in the next two sections of this article.

 

References
http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2005/10/the_amorality_o.php
http://webservices.sys-con.com/read/161874_p.htm
http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,69114,00.html
http://web2.wsj2.com/web2ishere.htm
http://web2.wsj2.com/the_best_web_20_software_of_2005.htm
http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/10/the_amorality_of_web_20.html
http://digital-web.com/articles/web_2_for_designers/
http://www.adambosworth.net/archives/000031.html




For a daily dose of Ajit Jaokar, readers might like to visit
www.futuretext.com.

 

More Stories By Ajit Jaokar

Ajit Jaokar is the author of the book 'Mobile Web 2.0' and is also a member of the Web2.0 workgroup. Currently, he plays an advisory role to a number of mobile start-ups in the UK and Scandinavia. He also works with the government and trade missions of a number of countries including South Korea and Ireland. He is a regular speaker at SYS-CON events including AJAXWorld Conference & Expo.

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