September 1st, 2006

The Zen of 2.0

by

There’s more inevitable debate over “social” software, Web 2.0, and 2.0ness in general. Is it really new? Is it a passing fad? Is it just for geeks? Does it help us get things done? Does it improve our lives? Has it jumped the shark? (Great commentary from Mathew Ingram, Kent Newsome, Stowe Boyd, Rob Hyndman, Mark Evans, Ryan Carson and, of course, Nick.)

I have been a critic of 2.0, and yet the title of this blog suggests that I do believe that 2.0 represents a real evolution — even if the 2.0 appendage itself has gotten overhyped and out of hand.

I think the evolution we are seeing at the convergence of media and technology can be described as shift from Western constructs to more Eastern constructs. It’s a Zen thing — the Zen of 2.0.

Berners-Lee is right that what we’re now calling Web 1.0 was already a meaningful step in the evolution towards Web 2.0. But the Zen of 2.0 is best understood as a shift from pre-Web, pre-network ways of thinking – in fact, the evolution of 2.0 began with the development of networks.

1.0 was about one-way communication, siloed media and content, proprietary applications, isolated actions, and centralized control.

The Zen of 2.0 is about networks — and the connectivity, interoperatbility, and “network effects” that networks enable. No medium, unit of content, individual, application, action, or unit of data exists in isolation. Every action has a ripple effect throughout the network. The term “social” as applied to Web 2.0 is really about networks.

It seems like we’re just quibbling over terms. Karl Martino is right that the Web IS social. Web = Network = Social = 2.0 = Zen.

The Zen of 2.0 is a different way of thinking about media, software, content, commerce, etc. that is in many ways completely counterintuitive to the 1.0 way of thinking. Just think about how counterintuitive Google’s success is from the perspective of 1.0 ways of thinking that governed media and technology 15 years ago — a company that produces no content and sells no products makes billions of dollars in advertising and dramatically increases the efficiency of content and commerce, all by leveraging the intelligence of the network and activity of millions of users. You couldn’t have even described it 15 years ago.

As to the issue of whether 2.0 is for everyone, as Ross Mayfield explained in The Power Law of Participation, not everyone will contribute to the network at the same level. And some social software and Web 2.0 advocates and companies do overestimate how steep the curve will be across the whole population of online/network users. But the reality of the Web is that everything we do, even at the level of clicking links and loading web pages, is contributing to the network.

Understanding how participation in the network enhances the value of the network is the Zen of 2.0.

  • Scott, I assume what you're getting at is the trend for 2.0 systems to be minimal, to elegantly boil things down to what is truly needed, disposing of superficial functions that were only included due to inertia. Like a Zen painting that uses a single stroke to represent a crane, Google or Basecamp accomplish more than Yahoo or Microsoft Project by attempting only what is necessary.

    Makes sense to me, anyway.

  • First, I love pounding on the Web 2.0 moniker. Same handful of people still refining the definition for 3 years, not that I can but it's amusing to hear the retread verbiage over and over. You guys are barely turning the dial, but that is because we're stuck with ho-hum social networks and tools.

    I would add that sWeb 2.0 is about voyeurism, basically looking at people's profiles, photos and listening to their music. As for being open, most of the big sites are still silo'ed, feel free to name a few that aren't that don't have to do with music or photos.

    The internet is a network and you guys are addressing it like linking people together is a new concept. It sounds like most of you just got your first net connection, although that is obviously not the case. Fighting the silos is the next big thing once social networking cools down. Speaking of, if browsing the next generation of Geocities is social networking, I'm not impressed, Google's $900 million investment or not.

  • John,

    Zen philosophy is about experiencing now-ness and simplicity and understanding the real nature of things, which may lie under the surface reality.

    Since you are apparently a devoted student of Zen, I wonder if you wouldn't mind explaining what exactly is the "real nature of things" and why it has nothing to do with Web 2.0?

    I know what web 2.0 is intuitively. I experience web 2.0 by being able to participate in an online space.

    Is that an example of what you mean by "explanatory without explaining"?

    And don’t tell me that Eastern is more simple, or more connected, or more social.

    I didn't tell you that at all. Those are your words.

    explanatory without explaining

    Tell me again, what is Zen?

    Sorry, but I think this post is a lot of hot air

    A willow tree swaying in the wind.

  • What does this *mean*:

    >>I think the evolution we are seeing at the convergence
    >>of media and technology can be described as shift from
    >>Western constructs to more Eastern constructs.

    I know it's popular to say things like that, but what is "western" and what is "eastern?" And don't tell me that Eastern is more simple, or more connected, or more social. The "east" is a lot more complicate than that, and not reducible to simple stereotypes.

    And I'm not sure what you mean by the Zen of 2.0. In what sense are you using the word "zen?" Zen philosophy is about experiencing now-ness and simplicity and understanding the real nature of things, which may lie under the surface reality. In your paragraph about Google you give an example without actually saying what the "different" way is.

    Sorry, but I think this post is a lot of hot air: explanatory without explaining. Sounds good, but no substance.

    I know what web 2.0 is intuitively. I experience web 2.0 by being able to participate in an online space. Your explanation introduces unnecessary concepts and clouds what it is supposed to make clear.

    However, I guess that's OK in a koan-style epigrammatic ambiguity that sounds really deep but has no actually semantic value.

  • Sam, explaining Zen -- explaining 2.0 -- explaining the Zen parallel to 2.0 -- all the same problem. Maybe a koan would help:

    Question: What is the meaning of the network effect?
    Answer: A broken link.

    Meditate on it. Enlightenment will come -- either that, or something more interesting will come along.

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