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events > Saturday 13th October 1pm-4pm

The Social Web is Serious Business: with Kat Black

Review of Seminar from participant Lisette Kaleveld

ICT WA 2007 Conference - Tech Park, Bentley, Perth, Western Australia

ICTWA 2007 Conference
Tech Park Function Centre Bentley Western Australia.

From wikipedia:

"Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services - such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies - which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users. The term became popular following the first O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004.

Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but to changes in the ways software developers and end-users use the web. According to Tim O'Reilly, "Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform."

Some technology experts, notably Tim Berners-Lee, have questioned whether one can use the term in a meaningful way, since many of the technology components of "Web 2.0" have existed since the early days of the Web."

What is web 2.0?

Probably most of you have some idea of what 'web 2.0' means. I won't assume every knows, because it was just last month that a friend from the Film + TV Industry asked me if web 2.0 was 'some new software that makes it easier to make a website?'

On the other end of the scale are web-geeks who sneer at the term, because aspects of what's now called 'web 2.0' have been around since the very beginning of the web - eg Forums, or as they used to be called, Bulletin Boards.

The big change for me, as someone who's been making websites for about a decade, is that what was marginal (eg discussing some new product online with other geeks at a site run by some geek) has now become mainstream (where the actual site selling products encourages open and honest user-reviews).

Whereas the former meant that those in-the-know could get some advice, the latter means that manufacturers are REALLY affected by user-reviews.

So, while not all of the tools are new, the scale and impact of this new level of active participation is.

The milestones for me aren't what my geek-pals and I are using, it's when my Mum starts using something.

While I cringe as much as anyone when people use the term 'web 2.0' as a buzzword without really understanding what it means, I think avoiding it or saying it's irrelevant just because aspects of it's evolution have been around long before the term is being a bit precious.

I guess the problem is that we don't have a satisfactory alternaive. Some people favour the term 'social web' (hence the title of this workshop) but then that can also be misinterpreted.

eg - employers who block sites such as Facebook because they see them as 'social' and that somehow precludes it having 'business' value.

Tim O'Reilly - What is Web 2.0? (2005)

The Long Tail

As with web 2.0, being surrounded by a other geeks most of the time, it's easy to feel like this is old news and not worth repeating - and yet at a recent AFTRS Centre for Screen Business Seminar (which I'm very happy is being reprised for BM!F) they said something like 'Everyone knows the Long Tail principle, right?' and only about half the audience DID know, so I'll give a quick summary.

You've all heard of the 80/20 rule? Aka the Pareto Principle. It's been accepted as a fairly fundamental rule of economics and marketing. Turns out though, according to the Long Tail Principle that at least in marketing terms, the 80/20 rule doesn't apply when you remove the factor of scarcity.

The Long Tail was first identified in an article in Wired Magazine by Chris Anderson back in 2004, popularised in his 2006 book Long Tail, Why the Future of Business if Selling Less of More and his Long Tail Blog. The Long Tail evolved from the ideas of Ken McCarthy in the 1990's.

While Chris Anderson has revised some of the statistics used in the original article, the principle remains the same, and it's been quite revolutionary.

Basically, my summary:

  • If you remove the need to have items stocked where people are actually located, many more items become viable. This is nothing new - think of the mail-order or specialty catalogues popular over a hundred years ago - they had many more items than an actual store could stock. The web has made this concept even more efficient. eg Nehaflix.com
  • If you offer similar items based on people's previous preferences, or the preferences of people with similar tastes, they are more likely to buy that item. eg Amazon 'You Might Also Like...' - Touching the Void/Into Thin Air example from Wired article.
  • If you offer people unlimited choices, more people will buy less mainstream products. Instead of 80/20 it's more likely to be that 50% of sales are items that rank over 100,000th when millions of options are available - see diagram to left. eg Amazon, last.fm, Rhapsody
  • The opportunities for independant content developers are greater as access to market at very low overheads is enabled, and control of 'eyeballs' (eg by what is stocked in Target, what is advertised on television) by a small number of large players is reduced.
  • Quality of goods and services may improve, as word of mouth (user reviews) will be more important than direct advertising in affecting peoples buying decisions - people will buy products more appropriate to their needs and tastes and NOT just because they see it in a store or on TV. No wonder the mainstream media is worried...

There are many more implications of the Long Tail, these are just a few.

User Generated Content (or Consumer Generated Media)

User Generated Content has been around as long as the web. Forums (or 'Bulletin Boards' as they used to be called) are an example of why geeks hate the term 'web 2.0' as they're everything web 2.0 is supposed to be but they've been around since before the web even had pictures.

What IS new though is the emphasis on user-generated content, and the scale of participation in production of content.

See definition on wikipedia.

Customer Made article in trendwatching.com

The above sites vary hugely in what they're about, but they have one common characteristic - the majority of the content on the site is created by users. Usually, for free.

While the majority of these are still evolving as business models and many of them are not (yet) making a profit, that doesn't stop them having actual $$ value - eg MySpace, YouTube etc.

The ultimate in populist media - STOMP, the Straits Times Online Mobile and Print. The website encourages CitJ's (citizen journalists) to upload their stories, pictures by web or MMS.

At Xmedialab in Singapore, Deputy Editor Felix Soh explained that STOMP does not curate - only obscene or otherwise offensive material is removed. He was very proud of the CitJ 'scoops' - such as the reader who sent in photos of his injuries in the recent Burma uprising, which were then sought-after by the mainstream world press.

Material submitted by website readers is even used in the print verison of the paper (Singapore's main daily newspaper). Certainly makes you wonder if paid journalists' days are numbered - or at least, tabloid journalists.

STOMP - the Straits Times Online Mobile and Print

As Felix Soh mentioned, 'We don't like to see any white space on the site'. A western graphic designer's worst nightmare :P

I will come back to some of these examples later...

... the geek shall inherit the earth <