By Jon Brodkin
Web 2.0 could be a meaningless marketing buzzword. Or it may represent a whole new paradigm for the Internet, one centered on user-generated content that could hasten the death of the newspaper industry.
There are lots of opinions about Web 2.0, and some of them – mostly of the pro-Web 2.0 variety – were on display Tuesday in a panel discussion during the annual meeting of the Mass Technology Leadership Council.
“Meet the new influencers,” said Paul Gillin, a writer and commentator on the tech industry and a former executive editor of Network World sister publication Computerworld.
Gillin relayed the well-known story of Vincent Ferrari, a 30-year-old blogger who recorded a phone call with a rude AOL customer service representative who repeatedly refused to grant Ferrari’s request – actually, at least 21 requests in five minutes – to cancel his service.
Ferrari’s blog crashed when 300,000 people tried to download the audio file last year, according to Gillin. He ended up in the New York Times and on the Today Show, where the clip was played for tens of millions of people, Gillin says. AOL fired the employee and sent Ferrari a written apology, but not before its reputation took a hit.
“Individuals and small groups of people have the ability to move markets that didn’t exist a few years ago,” Gillin said. “Fark.com is doing 40 million page views a day, which is more than the Chicago Tribune. It has the full-time equivalent of two employees. Craig Newmark of Craigslist.com is quietly killing the newspaper industry.”
Gillin predicted a rapid decline in the newspaper industry over the next two decades, saying the industry’s market model is unsustainable because it costs so much to deliver information. Markets will be smaller and more focused on particular audience segments because of Web 2.0, he predicted.
But what is Web 2.0?
“It’s never really been adequately defined,” said panel moderator John Landry, chairman and CTO at Adesso Systems in Boston. “It is, in many ways, a meaningless marketing buzzword.”
The significance of the term “Web 2.0” has been dismissed by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium.
In an IBM podcast interview last July, Berners-Lee was asked about the common explanation that Web 1.0 is about connecting computers and making information available, while Web 2.0 is about connecting people and facilitating new kinds of collaboration.
Berners-Lee replied, “Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.”
Tuesday’s panelists didn’t offer any new definitions of Web 2.0, but Landry said the basic concept is that everyone can participate, everyone can be a publisher.
According to Landry, if Web 1.0 is symbolized by Encyclopaedia Britannica and similar expert organizations, Web 2.0 is about Wikipedia, and content generated by users who may or may not know what they are talking about.
Landry said Web 2.0 is also seen in software as a service (SaaS), with its continual improvement of services replacing traditional product releases.
The City of Boston is getting in the Web 2.0 game too. Last June, the city hired Bill
Oates away from New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. As CIO at the hotel chain, Oates said his team created a site called the “lobby” where customers could talk about the hotels and ask questions. They also built a “loft” and hotel in Second Life, a three-dimensional online world built and owned by its “residents,” of which there are nearly 2.9 million worldwide.
Second Life , which has inspired parodies such as http://www.getafirstlife.com/, allows users to buy real estate and build assets, and has its own economy. Starwood Hotels used the site to reach a younger audience, and now the City of Boston is considering Second Life as well.
“Trust me, in the city we’re not spending a lot of time thinking about Second Life,” Oates said in yesterday’s panel discussion. “But we are thinking about it as a way to do community events and meetings.”
Second Life may also be a place where Boston could unveil a design for a new City Hall, Oates said.
In the real world, Boston is pursuing a wireless initiative to give residents low-cost Internet access anywhere in the city, and using its Web site to let residents pay bills and connect them to various municipal services.
For Oates, sharing information and engaging Boston residents is the key to Web 2.0.
The panel also included Judith Hurwitz, co-author of Service Oriented Architecture for Dummies. Hurwitz talked about a connection between SOA and Web 2.0.
SOA is an approach to building IT systems that makes it easier to reuse applications for a variety of purposes across an enterprise. The ability to use Internet-based services inside an enterprise have led some to call Web 2.0 the “universal SOA.”
“We are now looking at Web 2.0 and service oriented architecture as a cultural revolution,” Hurwitz said.