February 27th, 2006

Who Has Time for Web 2.0?

by

It’s official — advances in communications technology (email, cell phones, voicemail, telework, etc.) have made workers less productive. Rather than make our lives easier, technology is making our lives more complicated and more difficult. From a study by Day-Timers (via CNET):

Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voice mails and the like, research showed.

The average time spent on a computer at work was almost 16 hours a week last year, compared with 9.5 hours a decade ago, according to the Day-Timer research released this week.

Workers typically get 46 e-mails a day, nearly half of which are unsolicited, it said.

Sixty percent of workers say they always or frequently feel rushed, but those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994, the research showed.

Put another way, in 1994, 82 percent said they accomplished at least half their daily planned work but that number fell to 50 percent last year. A decade ago, 40 percent of workers called themselves very or extremely successful, but that number fell to just 28 percent.

So now, into our already technology-harried lives, comes Web 2.0 and participatory media, giving us the power to blog, comment, tag, share, seed, rate, etc. — a whole new world of technology-enable interactivity. Subscribe to RSS feeds. Comment on blogs. Start a blog. Tag everything you read and do.

Don’t just stand there and receive media passively! Go do something! Interact! Create your own media!

But, gosh, I’m already at work until 7:30 just reading and deleting email. When can I spend some time with my family? Or just put my feet up on the couch and relax? Does media really have to be this much WORK?

Greg Yardley had a blazing insight on this problem in his response to Bradley Horowitz’s media pyramid:

I’d call the ‘creator-community’ the primary lesson of Web 2.0, but in fact creation-demanding services have been around for ages. Think about e-mail. Think about instant messaging. These huge applications are just frameworks for delivering user-created content to other users. While it’s possible to just passively receive e-mails or instant messages the vast bulk of people add their own content to the system, which in turn acts as an incentive for others to participate. A virtuous circle sucks everyone in, and e-mail and IM are now near-universal.

and

For every creator of an RSS feed I imagine there are a hundred passive consumers; the community of feed reader users looks a lot like Horowitz’s pyramid. And that’s why RSS feeds have minimal impact compared to e-mail and IM. That’s why RSS isn’t ‘mainstream’. Until an application is invented that makes publishing a useful feed a natural and painless consequence of reading one, it’ll never reach ubiquity.

I’ve tried to make this point many times, but never as incisively as Greg has.

This is the core problem with Web 2.0 as Media 2.0 — for all but a small group of dedicated users (e.g. bloggers) there is not a clear return on investment for the time and effort it takes to actively — and consistently — participate in media. Which is not to say there can’t be a clear value proposition, but we just haven’t found it yet.

Greg’s example of email and IM illustrates just how high the hurdle is, because email and IM solve immediate and obvious communications needs. Sure, commenting, tagging, seeding, etc. allow people to have their voice heard — but amidst the everyday hassles of life, how pressing is this really?

Just look at the pathetic voter turnout rates in the US. People don’t even take the time to vote for a president, and they’re going to take the time to tag articles?

Maybe Bradley Horowitz is right, and 90% of media consumers will remain passive, enjoying the value created by the other 10%. But that feels more like a marginal advance than a revolution.

Umair Haque (of course) has made two key observations on this problem:

1. “Getting Ninged and Flocked — Most Web.20 apps are only USEFUL to geeks or are only USABLE by geeks.

2. To leverage the edge, you need to make it easy for the AVERAGE PERSON at the edge to contribute, which is the problem withe Edgeio.

I apologize for repeating myself, but I’m going to keep hammering — the Web 2.0 folks should be spending every waking hour trying to figure out the Web 2.0 equivalent of email, IM, and web browsing. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it’s not RSS and it’s not blogging software.

It needs to be something so fundamental that failure to adopt will be like not having an email address (or for those under 25, not having an IM address). That means it needs to be EASY and it needs to be ESSENTIAL.

And — before you bring up MySpace — it needs to be adoptable by people over 30. The Digital Generation may be the wave of the future, but the rest of us are not dead yet.

When Web 2.0 can figure out how to empower people without overwhelming them or asking too much of them, that’s when the edge will become the new center.

  • You got this one right.
    Think about regular folks and stop trying to impress photomatt!

  • Regarding: "for all but a small group of dedicated users (e.g. bloggers) there is not a clear return on investment for the time and effort it takes to actively — and consistently — participate in media."

    And mostly, not even them! (e.g. bloggers). The non-diary/chat blog is too often fueled by hope and dreams, or less politely, being taken by hype and marketing.

    However, almost all the "Web 2.0" folks are not really about empowering the edge, that's just posturing to be, err, "edgy". They're more concerned with selling themselves to the top, which is what they do.

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