Friday, September 26, 2008

What is Web 2.0?

SwansonToday at Temple University in Philadelphia, I’m listening to a talk about Prof. Burt Swanson, an expert on how organizations adopt IT, who’s (literally) a greybeard of the UCLA information systems department.

Swanson noted that recently there were 4 “Web 2.0” conferences at UCLA, two organized for industry types and two organized by students. (I’m sympathetic, having talked about Web 2.0 at USC in August). He noted that half of each conference seemed to focus on trying to define the term (which I suppose might resemble nailing jello to the wall).

What struck me was an early slide that contrasted four key comments on Web 2.0:

1. In 2006, Tim O’Reilly offered his most compact definition ever:

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.
2. Earlier in 2006, the Web 1.0 inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee was interviewed as saying:
I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means.
3. Writing in the April 2007 Atlantic monthly (“The Web 2.0”), Michael Hirschorn said
In the Web hype-o-sphere, things matter hugely until, very suddenly, they don’t matter at all. … Really cool people now like to talk about Web 3.0.
4. Finally, the man who did more to deliver Web 1.0 to the masses, Marc Andreessen, wrote in his blog:
In the beginning, Web 2.0 was a conference. As conferences go, a good one -- with a great name. … From there, it was easy to conclude that "Web 2.0" was a thing, a noun, something to which you could refer to explain a new generation of Web services and Web companies.
Swanson’s conclusion? Web 2.0 is not a thing, instead it’s an “organizing vision” as he defined the term a decade ago in his oft-cited paper. The money quote from that earlier paper:
[A]n interorganizational community, comprised of a heterogeneous network of parties with a variety of material interests in an IS innovation, collectively creates and employs an organizing vision of the innovation that is central to decisions and actions affecting its development and diffusion. That organizing vision represents the product of the efforts of the members of that community to make sense (Weick 1995) of the innovation as an organizational opportunity.
Swanson even has a plot of how the length of the Wikipeida entry evolved from February 2005 to February 2008, accreting over time. During Q&A, asked why he used Wikipedia, Swanson replied: “We kinda liked the irony of trying to stay within the [Web 2.0] system.”

Of course now I’m using a blog to talk about a web 2.0 irony built upon a wiki that uses Web 2.0 processes to debate what Web 2.0 means. And members of the workshop will be using a gated wiki to discuss the implications of Swanson’s presentation for our research stream.

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