Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tim O'Reilly and defining Web 2.0

In his commencement speech at UC Berkeley, Tim O'Reilly finally delivered a simple, concise definition of Web 2.0: Harnessing collective intelligence.

Excerpts from his speech:
A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.

It's for this reason that I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.

The world of Web 2.0 *can* be one in which we share our knowledge and insights, filter the news for each other, find out obscure facts, and make each other smarter and more responsive. We can instrument the world so it becomes something like a giant, responsive organism.
Harnessing collective intelligence. That is something I can get behind. Simple, clean, concise, and compelling.

It's nothing like Tim's first attempt at defining "Web 2.0", a verbose and confusing essay that lumbered in at five pages. His second "compact definition" remained a baffling mess of buzzwords with no real clarity or compelling direction.

No surprise that Joel Spolsky said Web 2.0 is "a big, vague, nebulous cloud of pure architectural nothingness" and that "when people use the term Web 2.0, I always feel a little bit stupider for the rest of the day." Many others felt lost in the Web 2.0 fog, unsure if it was about mashups, AJAX, RSS, or something else entirely.

I like this new definition of Web 2.0, "harnessing collective intelligence." I like the idea we are building on the expertise and information of the vast community of the Web. I like the idea that web applications should automatically learn, adapt, and improve based on needs.

I also like the idea that "Web 2.0" should include many companies that people were trying to classify as "Web 1.0". Amazon.com, with its customer reviews and personalized pages, clearly is harnessing the collective wisdom of Amazon shoppers. Google also is constantly improving based on the behavior of searchers.

Web 2.0 applications get better and better the more people use them. Web 2.0 applications learn from the behavior of their users. Web 2.0 applications harness collective intelligence.

4 comments:

Pete Cashmore said...

Yep - I've always stuck by that definition, which is why I wonder about single user ajax applications being lumped in with Web 2.0.

Matt said...

Greg:

I thought that you would be much more behind a statement such as "harnessing artificial intelligence" versus "harnessing collective intelligence."

In many of the current web 2.0 applications, collective intelligence just isn't scalable in the same way that artificial intelligence is...

However, if one could combine collective intelligence with artificial intelligence they'd be on to something.

Matt Fleckenstein

Murray said...

I completely agree with you. Web 2.0 is all about harnessing people's collective intelligence. The tools are only important in so far as they support that objective.

However we can go further and extend Web 2.0 into the real world if we say that Web 2.0 is all about harnessing people's collective intelligence and resources.

Then we can includes P2P services like BitTorrent and political services like Meetup in the definition.

Craig Tobias said...

I hear a lot of discussion around defining Web 2.0; I think a simpler definition is better, such as “user-based collaboration and content generation.” There are a number of people who want a clear-cut definition on exactly what Web 2.0 is and everything that encompasses Web 2.0. This is analogous to asking for a list of every animal that exists now or has ever existed before they are willing to talk about dogs or buffalo. Even today new species are being discovered. If I may borrow the famous words of the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, “I may not be able to find it, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Web 2.0 is still growing and evolving and this is why it is still so hard to define.

The biggest issue facing Web 2.0 is not technology. Most of the technology used in Web 2.0 has been around for quite some time. It is the application of this technology that is unique and challenging. Web 2.0 is analogous to the concept of democracy, elements of which have been around since before the ancient Greeks. The elements of democracy have evolved over time and been integrated into something far different than what the ancient Athenians would recognize. Similarly, the elements of Web 2.0 continue to evolve and are being integrated into something different.

Craig Tobias
Cisco Systems