Social networking comes of age

web 2.0


I was at Internet World 2007 in London this week and spoke to many companies about the meaning and value of web 2.0. Amongst the ‘definitions’ proffered included “nice, rounded corners” and “AJAX-style web page loading”, elements of which I suspect you’ll find in books. Neither, of course, are true in their entireity.

Web 2.0 is neither a language nor a graphics style, but is certainly a definition of content and interactivity on a website. Once upon a time (let’s call it web 0 for clarity), webmasters wrote content for others to read, and read it we did. We couldn’t interact, we couldn’t connect further and the content was static, unless the content provider chose to update it.

Then came interactivity (web 1.0) – comments, discussion threads or even guestbooks. It allowed users to add something to the page, but the subject was still defined by the site owner.

This new age, web 2.0 if you really wish to give it a label, is about networks of people creating their own collaborative content, commentary or purpose within a framework defined by the site owner. Content or value is rarely provided, it’s created only by those that visit.

But what’s the point of all of this? If you’ve visited some of the well known examples of web 2.0, you’d be hard pushed to identify it. Clear leaders in online social networks and SN-derived content, such as MySpace and Facebook leave me cold – they’re kind of online pub conversations that in the main, would be greatly enhanced by having a pint in hand.

Zopa.com has demonstrated a practical application of social networking that may herald the start of something new. It’s classic 2.0 of course in that the site owners create the framework, the readers the content. In zopa.com’s case, it’s an introduction service for those that want money to those that have it to lend. In doing so, you cut out the middle men, such as banks, and therefore keep the costs lower. You also have the advantage of personalising what might otherwise be a cold, financial, commercial arrangement. In an online way, you actually know your lendor.

Keep your eye on this one : impressively, they facilitated the loaning of £83k yesterday. Not much of course given the size of the financial markets in the UK, but it’s a start.

[As an aside, I was talking with a friend from University days this week about social networking and it’s value in a commercial environment, such as intranets. He has a degree in human geography and likened this collaborative age of the internet to academic studies of societies. We’ve much to learn about the internet from 60 year old published papers]