The State of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 proponent Dion Hinchcliffe evangelizes about the virtues of Web 2.0:

Invariably, Web 2.0 is a term you love to hate or hate to love but either way, you’ll know you’ll get folk’s attention by saying it. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to quite a fair number of people around the country about Web 2.0 in the last few months and hear what they think of it. An overall picture has begun to emerge out of these conversations. We’ll get to what exactly Web 2.0 is again in a moment. But one important ingredient, perhaps the key ingredient, is that it describes the inversion of control of information, processes, and software wholesale over to the users of the Web. This is because users now generate the majority of content these days and they also provide the attention that drives almost everything online financially (particularly advertising). And all of us have a uniquely equal access to the global audience of the Web; each and every one of us now has our own world-class pulpit (in the forms of blogs, wikis, and other mechanisms) that is amazingly the equal of any other person on the Web. Web 2.0 has also been successful in spawning almost ten related sub-movements that range from Identity 2.0 to Democracy 2.0.

Key Aspects of Web 2.0

  • The Web and all its connected devices as one global platform of reusable services and data
  • Data consumption and remixing from all sources, particularly user generated data
  • Continuous and seamless update of software and data, often very rapidly
  • Rich and interactive user interfaces
  • Architecture of participation that encourages user contribution

In a way similar to how open source software (OSS) democratized and decentralized control of software creation, commoditizing it relentlessly along the way, Web 2.0 sites is doing same thing with the control structures of society and business. Web 2.0 represents the unyielding shift towards putting the power to publish, communicate, socialize, and engage, using an almost-dizzying array of methods, in online two-way discourse and interchange. The Web is the medium, but it’s powered by people.

Sounds keen, eh? But let’s not forget the social, value and ethical implications of emerging technologies. The unintended consequences of Web 2.0 aren’t fully known at this early point in its history, and deserves attention. I’m hoping to put together a small symposium on the social and ethical implications of Web 2.0. More details to come….


  1. Don’t get me wrong, as I think the privacy concerns are well-founded, as is the concern that the metadata only exists by dint of an uneven access distribution, but I also wonder if privacy is an idea or a concept whose time may have come. I wrote about this a while back, and for what it’s worth, will post an excerpt here so as not to just repeat the claim/argument:

    Blogging is at this point a somewhat battered and banal example of what many see as a more pernicious confession and collection of information that removes from the individual the power to resist authoritarian impulses (be they governmental or corporate), which at least theoretically rely upon information control and knowledge over and interpellation of their targetted subjects. And the many who see this aren’t wrong, necessarily. But it occurs to me that the concern might well be alleviated if we followed Lanier’s suggestion or parallel loss: that nullifying some of the force of any “right to privacy” means also nullifying that force for all sorts of actors that claim a privilege via it, from the individual citizen to the corporation to the government. If we had as much information and (and this is a hugely crucial componenet) information-processing as did these larger and more complex organizations, it may be that privacy would turn out to no longer be a necessary check on the authoritarian principle.

    Which isn’t to say that privacy wasn’t a useful bulwark, back when the media ecology by which we interacted with our social and political world looked very different (say the previous two centuries). But it may be that progressive responses need to, you know, “progress” along with the social and technological conditions that make manifest the world around us. Derrida has made the argument, in a number of different places, that new telecommunications technologies like email and the web constitute an archive that makes even more undecidable the already contested line between public and private. Theoretically, as notions of publicness shift from Enlightenment-based (Habermasian) models and towards models predicated on the technologies of circulation (Michael Warner and Dilip Gaonkar provide examples of this perspective), even the dialectical opposition that helped structure publicity in the public/private model no longer seems to be necessary if offering ways to theorize our subject-positions.

    There is a risk that this theoretical overture gets overextended, and/or that it gets coupled with certain concepts that lend a juridicality and a politics to these models that might properly be deemed fascistic. Some examples of that already exist, and I’ve been working on a paper to that effect for a while, some of which I may post when I feel that the argument has added a bit more muscle to its frame. But this risk doesn’t surface because of the dissolution of privacy but rather because of the improper excess of publicity, and if we are going to seriously entertain the possibility of imagining the “public” non-dialectically, then the one (publicness) doesn’t necessarily coincide with the loss of the other (privacy) unless extra theoretical or practical work is being done.

    As I note in the post, my thoughts are relatively incomplete on this, but I’d be interested in taking up the issue if you like. Perhaps a defense of privacy would be a good place to start?

    Oh, and btw, I much prefer the new site.

  2. Thanks, Kenneth.

    It sounds like you (and Jaron Lanier) are endorsing David Brin’s vision for a “transparent society,” a thesis I don’t entirely support. Beyond philosophical debates over an inalienable “right to privacy,” I believe strongly that the ability to control the flow of my personal information is necessary in many spheres of my life: intimate relationships, protection of my identity (and the information tied to it), anonymous political expression, ensure liberty and autonomy from authority, and so on. It seems Derrida’s notion of a “secret” supports some of these desire, but I’m not familiar with his meaning beyond your mention.

    I do agree with you, however, that the public/private dichotomy is no longer useful. I often try to not even use the term “privacy” when discussing such issues, since the line between public and private becomes increasingly blurred – not the least of which as a result of new information and communication technologies such as blogs and other Web 2.0 tools. Instead, we think about “norms of information flow” and how certain practices or technologies might disrupt the “contextual integrity” of these norms in particular contexts or situations. I’ve written about this elsewhere.

    Finally, while it does seem apparent that many users are willing to trade the privacy of their personal information in exchange for more efficient, convenient or just plain cool products and services, I am concerned that (a) they aren’t fully informed as to what information is being shared, how, and to whom; and (b) the ease of the aggregation of personal information presents threats not necessarily envisioned at the moment you decide to let track your browsing habits in order to provide recommendations.

    Much more to discuss. Glad you enjoy the site; another re-design is in the works…

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