Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Web 2.0, What's It Really About?

Here is a common definition of "Web 2.0" one finds on the web: "a trend in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to facilitate creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users." Link. Yadda, yadda, yadda. That's background noise. The important point is how and why are Web 2.0 companies hot traffic generators? And can this traffic be monetized? One can pontificate until blue in the face about solving the world's problems with Web 2.0 (I'm a big fan of the micro loan site kiva BTW) but business has one and only one raison d'etre--make the green stuff.

Below is a partial screen shot from a 2005 article by Tim O'Reilly.

From the list, let's focus in on Flickr, Wikipedia, and blogging sites plus (since 2005) facebook, myspace,, twitter, youtube and What's the salient difference between the companies on the left of the list and those we have highlighted? To my mind the absolute key to the success of what we now call Web 2.0 companies is user created content. Web 2.0 companies are essentially web based utility programs allowing users to post content. The users are donating free work product to these companies. Why are they successful? Because the sites generate million of free pages of content each year with very little effort per page on the part of the owner. What goes on all those user created content pages? Mostly Google ads. How do these sites get traffic? Google and Yahoo plow through the user created pages indexing them for inclusion into their search engine. Just as cool, the users who create the content often promote it to their circle of friends and family.

IMHO, the gold-plated question for web 2.0 planning is determining a strategy for encouraging users to post content. Why will users specifically wish to post information (photos, videos, articles, short posts, et alia) on your web site? What do the users get out of posting on your site that they can't get somewhere else? Answer that question correctly and you're on to something special.


Barry said...

I agree that UGC is a big part of Web 2.0, but most definitely not the only aspect. Some of the most successful Web 2.0 sites aren't about UGC, but about giving people a voice. Take Digg for example. Not only can users vote for the stories they like the most, they can comment on them as well.

And with UGC it's not just about showing what you've created, it's also about having conversations about that content. YouTube and Flickr have comment functionality that is a big part of the appeal of those sites.

In your reply to my blog post you said that the conversation part of Web 2.0 has always been there. That's indeed true. However, before sites like Digg, Flickr and YouTube the participants in that conversation have always been limited to those with the skills and technological access to get to Usenet and the BBS boards. With the ubiquitousness of PC's and internet access, the conversation has democratized, with many many more participants from nearly all layers of society.

There's always been UGC on the web as well, from early ASCII art to homebrewed software to photoshopped images. Only with Web 2.0 has there been an explosion in the amount and variety of UGC, because the tools have become available for everyone.

On top of that, the essence of Web 2.0 is not just about users sharing this content and talking about it, but also companies taking part in these conversations. That breaches the wall that's traditionally been there between producer and consumer, and makes consumers a part of the product creation process (or at least gives them that impression, which is really the same thing).

jjray said...

Thanks for the extensive comment Barry.

>>Some of the most successful Web 2.0 sites aren't about UGC<<

Name one.


I disagree. Digg is everything about UGC. Do I post on Digg? Yes, to generate links and traffic for my web sites. A large percentage of the traffic on Digg is similarly motivated. We are incentivized to post by receiving links (and the way Google indexes Digg posted material so rapidly). The "digging", user profiles, et alia are all part of Digg's strategy to incentivize the users to post.

One could say our argument is akin to what came first, the chicken or the egg? Maybe. Look at Craigslist. Not a 2.0 company? Yeah, but that 2.0 box is just that. Why is Craigslist a hot successful web company? UGC plain and simple. Have they built a community? Unquestionnably. Have they done it with new technology? Hell no! Reddit. The most basic of technology built mostly with open source. ... basic. Technology is not the sin qua non of 2.0.

>>It's about having conversations<<

Flickr has limited "conversation". It is an expression / sharing through pictures. Youtube is an expression / sharing through video. Conversing is a very small part of their business models. What drives these sites? UGC! It is everything to these sites. The key was providing a platform and reason for users to post their content whether words, pictures, or video.

My point is that when planning for 2.0 businesses, focus first and foremost on UGC. Why will the users come and post? Cool technology? Discreet community? Links? Without it, you fail. Creating great web conversation or communities or religious cults are, in my view, just the hook to get the UGC but not the only way to hook the users.

Barry said...

You forget what are arguably the greatest examples of Web 2.0, where UGC is a sidenote at best or entirely absent at most: Social Networks. What is the UGC in LinkedIn?

Conversations are as much a part of Web 2.0 as user generated content. I agree UGC is necessary, but it's certainly not the catalyst. If YouTube didn't have the comments functionality, would it still be such a success? If you couldn't comment on blog posts, would blogging be so popular?

jjray said...

Maybe we are having some sort of communication problem or misunderstand of the term UGC (user generated content).

There is absolutely no "content" on myspace, facebook, linkedin EXCEPT UGC. I'm mystified anyone would suggest otherwise. These sites are merely architecture setup to enable UGC. These sites are all about UGC. These sites are empty shells without UGC.

"If YouTube didn't have the comments functionality, would it still be such a success?"

IMHO, the comment feature is next to meaningless in the success of youtube. Why do users post video to youtube? To watch the video on the youtube web site and interact with the youtube community via comments??? NO. The innovation of youtube was to allow the portability of the video. I can post my video on youtube then display it on my own blog with free bandwidth from youtube. Also, when I post a video to youtube, other people might publicize said video by displaying it on their blogs. Without the portability / free bandwidth feature, youtube was nothing at launch.

Blogging and comments. The first early blog I created and coded had no comment feature (didn't add until 2 years later). I posted merely because I liked writing and having friends read. That was the essence of early blogging. Look around all the small blogs on Very few of the blog posts actually generate comments. In fact, I am quite certain if we just looked at raw per capita numbers, the vast majority of all blog posts generate zero comments.

Barry said...

I fail to see the UGC on MySpace and Facebook. Putting together a personal profile isn't content creation - it's filling in a form. Content creation is making videos, writing blog posts, taking pictures, making mashups.

I believe you underestimate the importance of the comments-function to the success of Web 2.0. UGC itself wouldn't be half as much fun if no one commented on the stuff you put together. The catalyst behind the success of user generated content is the free and easy comment functionality added to it.

You should surf around more on YouTube and Flickr, often the comment conversations are more entertaining (and to many creators, more important) than the actual video or photo.

Alex said...

Hello...found this post surfing and thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.

I agree with both/all of you. I think that UGC is one of the biggest, most important functionalities of Web 2.0 (and yes, social networks ARE UGC, in fact, that is all they are, whether it is templet-ized or not). But the communities that form around the UGC are equally as important. Without one or the other, you simply don't have success. Take the blogs that were mentioned...the blogs without a community of readers and commenters are not usually very successful blogs. When you have an engaged readership, they will comment.

But the original question, which was overlooked in the debate, was how do you draw in UGC to your site moving forward? And I think one highly over-looked method to do this is to incent people. What about UGC that you pay for? An example of this would be, a website that offers instructional video content for a nominal fee ($2). Earnings for each purchased video are split with the author. The payment structure encourages quality content, and people are willing to pay a nominal fee for the value of learning something they want (or need) to know. And it's much cheaper than buying a book (another threat to Borders) or a DVD...

jjray said...

Following up the conversation, here is a blog comment post from Kyle Mathews about Twitter I found enlightening:
"What makes Twitter uniquely attractive is the multiple ways to send and receive 'twits.' You can send receive twits via your cellphone, IM, email, and through a web interface. This means you can be plugged-in to the twitter network 24/7 whether your at your computer or not."