Monday, April 6, 2009

Accelerating Social Computing: Web 2.0 + Cloud = Web²

I was at the Web 2.0 expo in San Francisco last week. It was not very different from the previous year except that I could see the impact of slow economy - shrinking attendance, less crowded booths, and "Hire Me" ribbons. Tim O'Reilly's keynote was interesting. He said that Web 2.0 was never about the version number (read, he does not like people calling Web 3.0 a successor of Web 2.0). He had the equation Web 2.0 + World = Web Squared. I changed it to Web 2.0 + Cloud = Web2. The cloud seems more appropriate and the superscript is much cooler. If this catches on, remember, you read it here first!

The biggest shift that I have observed in Web 2.0 is the exponential growth of social media. This was evident at the Web 2.0 expo by looking at the number of participating social computing companies. Web 2.0 is certainly taking the direction of social computing. Tim mentioned in his keynote that the immense data gathered by the sensors and other means have hidden meaning in it and the applications have begun to understand this meaning. I could not agree any more; that justifies replacing the word "World" with "Cloud". Amazon's recent announcement to offer MapReduce on EC2 and Cloudera's $5M series A funding to commercialize Hadoop are early indicators of the rising demand for data-centric massive parallel processing. The cloud is a natural enabler to this evolution that will help gather data, context, and the interactions to amplify social conversations and create network effects. As John Maeda in his keynote said - people want to be human again. As Bill Buxton says :

User-centered design commonly tries to take into account different canonical user types through the use of persona. Perhaps one thing we need to do is to augment this tool with the notion of "placona," that is, capturing the canonical set of physical and social spaces within which any activity we are trying to support might be situated. After all, cognition does not reside exclusively in the brain. Rather, it is also distributed in the space in which we exercise that knowledge—in the location itself, the tools, devices, and materials that we use, and the people and social context in which all of this exists.

If one of the purposes of design and innovation is to improve our lives—for business, artistic, or familial purposes—then design that does not consider the larger social, cultural, and physical ecosystem is going to miss the mark.

Social computing is fundamentally a distributed problem that requires to make sense out of people's social and physical interactions with other people and objects including the context. The cloud can make this feasible and we can truly accelerate towards Web2. I think Tim will most likely drop the 2.0 from Web 2.0 next year - that in itself would be a great first step in leaving Web 2.0 behind and start the journey towards Web2.

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