Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Web 2.0 is content, and content is king

If you are an old school technology guy like I am, then just like me you probably can’t escape feeling puzzled by all the web 2.0 buzz going around. I mean, we were born and raised on the old eighties model of a startup – that is, two founders in a garage with a good idea for a product, 2 years or so of self-funded R&D work, then some external funding, building the organization, first sells …well, you know the drill.
So what with all that 18-years old punks that turn out every day with a new idea of a web 2.0 applications? Are any of these companies really sustainable? For most part, it looks like these ideas are nothing more than the result of a nice thought someone had while drinking in a bar. “Hey, why not have a website with a text field that lets you type in where exactly are you each moment of the day, and share it with your friends” says Joe – then pour some extra ten grounds or so to develop it (in AJAX o’course), color it in green, add a BETA label and a new startup is born. Then a week later someone says “well, Twitter is nice, but wouldn’t it be nicer if instead of just typing your message you could also SMS it to your friends” – and here goes yet another web 2.0 startup.
Could it be the bubble days all over again? Possibly, but I think that this time we go far beyond than just not having a business plan. Where every feature becomes a new company, you have 20+ different ways to do the same thing, nothing is compatible and no-one knows how the hell they gonna make some money out of it (save for the 1-size-fits-all answer – advertisement).
So unless the world has gone completely mad this time, we should expect everyday the bubble burst and a return to a more reasonable business framework, right?
Maybe not
What if it is our way of thinking that needs changing. After all, it is an old Kohn’s philosophy that when too much of the new data conflicts with the theory, it may just be the time for a new one – a paradigm shift.
Consider this – what if instead of thinking of all these new web 2.0 initiatives as distinct companies, we will regard them as a new form of content. In the same way, that TV shows, movies, cartoons and games are all forms of content. What we define here is a new content category – applications. Now under such view a lot of the anomalies of the startup mode start making sense – the entrepreneurs of web 2.0 are really a new breed of content provides, the seed investments to run up their site is production money. It very nicely justifies the existence of so many different apps in a variety of flavors and tastes – not much different than your 500+ channels TV guide.
We as users can pick and choose the content to our likes, we can play around with Fickr for a year, and the year after dump it in favor of ‘the new season of’ Picasa, and so on.
For some apps we may pay premium (which fits well the new move of apple to use their iTunes Store to sell 3rd party iPhone apps), but it should make no wonder that the bulk of money for this industry will come from advertisements. Again, this is not so different than your regular cable TV.
And just as content providers of the TV are rarely independent, and typically survive through their attachment to the big TV networks (ABC, CBS …), what is then more natural for these web 2.0 startup if not to get acquired by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft – the new media conglomerates of our times.
I have to say, I begin to like that model. It does make much more economical sense, doesn’t it? I’m sure there are some other insights hidden here if we’ll think about it a little harder. Might be the subject of some future posts.


Guy said...

Right on. Web 2.0 is a bit like blogging - you can blog about anything you like, if you are popular your blog gets millions of hits and you can make money the old-fashined way (advertizing); if you suck, you get visits from friends and family unless you do some extracurricular stuff (SEM or just screw the NY Governor). Still, the blogosphere was a new way to create, consume and influence news and views, the same way as Web 2.0 is a new way to create, consume and influence apps and services. It's not even a paradigm shift - it's just a new way to do something you've already been doing anyway. What it does enable is for new people to participate in the old game.
BTW, I am hearing that bloggers are getting fed up with blogging and with the blogosphere as a whole - could this happen to web 2.0 developers too?

Big Brother said...

First of all I assume you meant Kuhn when saying Kohn, as in "Thomas Samuel Kuhn". I understand this blog is a technological one, but a philosophical perspective is always a must. It does seem we live in a "Content Culture". The rest I am going to say may sound frivolous, trivial and even self-righteous to say the least, but I'll risk it anyway. God is dead, so people need to find meanings in other places, and truths less absolute. Like in Robert Jordan’s books the inability to create depth to the characters is replaced by creating more of them. More characters, more plots, thousands of pages. Perhaps quantity will become quality. Maybe content will become meaning, and like the idea of Douglas R. Hofstadter, transpositions from inanimate to alive, and from non-conscious to consciousness, to self-consciousness are just a matter of complexity, which itself may be reduced to quantity (at least this is my interpretation of his views). Needless to say I think all this is rubbish. Jordan is a bad writer, Hofstadter's theories are tiresome and ludicrous (maybe he thought writing enough thought experiments will prove his point somehow), and content will not be transformed to deep meaning, but only to more content. This applies as far as I am concerned to the Blog-grapho-mania as well as to the ipods, Web 2.0 et al. People just cannot see the forest for the trees. You do need content of course in order to create meaning, but this is not an automatic transformation but a conscious process applied by the meaning-creating entity. But it seems to me that after humanity realised this simple truth they said, "OK we need content in order for us to have meaning - this is easy, let's start from that and create all possible multitudes of content and make all of it accessible to everyone" and then they forgot the second part... not unlike a bad computer software design or everyday short-sighted politics.