Thursday, December 21, 2006

Web 2.0 - Time got it right

When at Christmas 2006 Time Magazine named you as their Person of the Year, they were bang on the money.  Web 2.0 has changed everything (even if we've forgotten what it was), and it's hard to remember what the web looked like before Facebook.

“You might not be person of the year”, ran the line on the ad for the 2007 Chrysler Sebring on, before explaining that you nevertheless deserve one of their cars.  How wrong they apparently were, as Time Magazine closed 2006 by revealing that “You” were their person of the year.

You?  Yes, the you that’s been blogging, MySpacing, YouTubing your way to the top over the past year.  The you behind the growth in social media, user generated content and co-created everything.

So what has the world come to when one of the world’s biggest traditional media companies is trumpeting the very thing that is said to threaten its existence?  The harrumphers will have their moment, and many of Time’s readers (too old to have noticed the tidal wave) will dismiss it.  But Time were right, and it was an extraordinary year.

MySpace’s acquisition by Newscorp in July last year for $580m in cash took many by surprise.  With just 20 million unique users, the site had already shown rapid growth, but the naysayers couldn’t see either how that could continue, or how it could be monetised.  MySpace finished the year with around 140 million unique users, and back in August, signed a deal with Google worth $900m over the next three years to take Google’s search programme.  Newscorp had demonstrated boldness and insight, and given a huge fillip to their own online venture, Fox Interactive Media.

Google itself famously acquired YouTube in October, for $1.6 billion – making its 28 and 29-year old founders multimillionaires in the grand old dotcom way (they still apparently haven’t yet seen the money).  Started in the spring of 2005, the site took just 18 months to go the whole way through to sale.

So is it all done and dusted then for Web 2.0, or is there more to come in 2007?

Web 2.0 is much more than a few websites.  It represents a marriage of technologies, people and thinking that’s created a fundamental shift in the way we use and regard the internet.  Far from being a spent force, it’s a theme we’re going to see accelerate through 2007.

Sites like flickr, Digg, Myspace, Basecamp (, are different from ‘traditional’ websites on a basic level – their content is provided by their users.  Of course this makes publishers rub their hands with glee, as they envisage not having to employ journalists, editors and their ilk.  But what makes this approach powerful is not the cost it saves, but the value it creates. 

In 2004, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki’s book ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ explored a deceptively simple idea that had profound implications.  As he put it, “large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future”

It is this thought that lies behind a site like, which invites users to share their bookmarks with each other.  This simple action allows the site to rank bookmarks – so users can see content that others deem worthy of bookmarking.  It works because the act of sharing your bookmarks with others who are also sharing theirs brings a value that is greater than simply the sum of its parts – the value lies in the themes and memes that emerge from the wisdom of the crowd.

More and more ideas are emerging around this space, and the underlying philosophy is spilling over into product design, marketing, art and games.  This is a truly big idea, and the energy and creativity it taps are set to be major drivers of competitive advantage in the future.

2006 was the year when social networking became a cultural phenomenon.  2007 will see its influence accelerate as more businesses understand the potential it offers for the evolution of their relationship with customers.  Those customers are the person of the year – will your customers be amongst them?

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