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May - 2005 - issue > Technology
Web 2.0Connectedness, sharing and the social
Sunil Singh
Saturday, April 30, 2005
There is an interesting effect that is very perceptible, particularly in the insular world of the Silicon Valley called the “Google effect.” What started as a search engine seems to have become the Internet’s biggest phenomenon.

The “Google effect” refers to the ecosystem that is springing up around new ways to use the Internet or to enhance the user experience on the internet, driven by the success (and cash) of Google. There are both interesting and ominous signs in this “second coming of the Internet” or Web 2.0, as it is popularly referred to. The interesting aspects lie in the innovative tools developed by companies that empower users like me to “connect, share and collaborate” on the Internet.

The key to success is an accurate and mature business model. Venture capital groups that readily invest in them, are bristling with unbridled optimism—the mantra is “Don’t worry about revenue, get a large number of users using your service/tools”—for free, mostly. Isn’t that what we heard in the 90s? There is a subtle difference, of course. Google is heading along a trajectory that is bound to collide with Yahoo!—which means both companies are likely to be in an acquisitive mode, for any tools or service that can help retain or add users—a fact not lost among entrepreneurs or investors.

The first wave of the Internet created a gold rush as spectacular in its meteoric rise as it was in the dot com bust that followed.

However, when the dust settled, there were some true survivors that have continued to build successful “pure Internet” businesses. Google is a search engine (though that’s quickly changing as Google attempts to chart a strategy for growth and domination), Yahoo! as a portal, eBay as a person-to-person commerce enabler and Amazon as the retailer are all firmly established, profitable companies with healthy market caps.

So what are the themes for the next wave of Internet companies that are setting the agenda for Web 2.0? We will outline some of the themes and companies that are driving the agenda for this second coming.

Social Networks
A slew of companies seem to have grown around the common theme of “connecting” people in a network. The concept itself seems sensible. It is based on a solid foundation of academic work (Read “Linked: The New Science of Networks” by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi) that lays out the fundamentals of why networks are so effective. In our real life, we all exploit the power of a network—in our personal lives we may use our friends’ network to make new friends or meet other people. Friendster and tribe.net attempt to capture that mechanism through software.

A similar concept of networking for professional reasons exists in companies like Linkedin (www.linkedin.com). You can join the network either by registering and being the starting node (which means you must begin inviting people to connect to you) or you can be invited by other people to join their network. However, I have a healthy skepticism about the true usefulness of any of these systems.

Most people I know rarely visit Linkedin, except when they accept someone’s invitation, or when they are bored and want to browse through profiles of different people in the network. Recruiters and sales people are perhaps the only category of people I can envisage who might actually use the vast database of professionals that are now in LinkedIn, and exploit the network.

Personally, I would call a friend or acquaintance if I needed to contact somebody I didn’t know, so none of these social networking software systems are feasible for me.

Blogging and Tagging
It is no surprise “blog” was the “most-looked up word” of 2004. This new pastime on the Internet is growing so rapidly that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have recognized the strategic importance of providing blogging tools as a means of “keeping” their user base. Google acquired Blogger.com, Microsoft launched MSN Spaces and Yahoo! recently launched a beta that combines blogging and social networking in its latest service Yahoo360, but it requires an invitation.

There are blogs on every conceivable topic imaginable. During the recent presidential campaign in the U.S., the political gossip column of Ana Marie Cox www.wonkette.com was reputed to be one of the highest traffic blogs, vaulting the writer into the “expert” category and landing her appearances on CNN.

Apart from these big players, there is at least one other company that deserves mention—Six Apart www.sixapart.com whose blogging tools, packaged in its platform Movable Type, have received wide acclaim.

The Internet enabled easy access to information through web sites. In an analogous manner, blogging has led to an explosion of easily accessible “user generated content.”

With blogging becoming so pervasive, one is again faced with the “information overload” problem—-if there are millions of blogs on various topics, how does one know where to go? Blog search engines like Technorati www.technorati.com and Blogdex www.blogdex.com address this problem. They exploit “tags” placed in the blogs by the writers (hypertext links which act as markers for the subjects they are discussing and contextualize their writing). Google will no doubt come up with its own blog search engine.

We discussed above how tagging blogs makes them searchable. This simple concept has created another major revolution—tagging. By allowing users to tag URLs (associating words with URLs), delicious (http://del.icio.us) has become the most well known, “social book marking” site). Tags can be an RSS feed, which increases the power and usefulness of the tags considerably.

Sharing, Connectedness and Collaboration
The theme for the second coming of the Web seems to be “sharing, connectedness and collaboration.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the latest service launched by Yahoo! called Yahoo360.

Still in beta, it allows users to create private social networks, upload images for sharing, and allow blogging, all in a single view—sort of an “all-in-one” for social networking, blogging and image sharing. Yahoo! recently acquired Flickr (www.flickr.com) an image uploading, tagging and sharing service.

Flickr’s uniqueness lies in the tagging of images which make the images searchable. Because of its tagging, Flickr has distinguished itself from other image sharing services like Snapfish (www.snapfish.com, recently acquired by HP) and oFoto (www.ofoto.com, acquired by Kodak).

What does all this mean? In my continual meetings with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley over the last few months, I observe the pace of innovation and some exciting previews of what lies ahead in this space, and look forward to more innovative tools and services that echo the theme of connectedness and sharing.

These tools and services will enhance my personal experience on the web, help me keep in touch with friends and share ideas and content with them and collaborate with them—in other words, integrating with and indistinguishable from my normal, humdrum life.

Sunil Singh is the CTO & EVP of Product Development at Informance, a provider of manufacturing performance management solutions. Singh has strong interests in promoting technology entrepreneurship and serves on technology advisory and Board positions of several companies in India and Silicon Valley.
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