Untangling Web 2.0

An aspiring information professional shedding light on the Web 2.0 phenomenon

Busy bees in The Hive

If you have a huge job that needs doing, it makes sense to recruit as many people as possible to help, right?

Well, in the context of Web 2.0, this principle is known as harnessing collective intelligence, which is the first of the eight core patterns of Web 2.0, outlined by Tim O’ Reilly.

MP900433057 [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://c4lpt.co.uk/new-workplace-learning/liso-fostering-collective-intelligence/

Consider this scenario.  My workplace, the National Archives of Australia, is home to an inconceivable number of Australian Government records. Members of the public search our collection online for records relating to topics such as immigration, defence and Australian politics.

However, only around 25% of our collection is listed online at item level, and although that is still a significant amount of records for avid researchers to sift through, it seemed that some records were destined to go undiscovered. ‘Projections on the time it would take archives staff to describe the lists without public help currently stand at 210 years’.

Thankfully, the organisation is harnessing the collective intelligence of its passionate clients by way of  The Hive, a Web 2.0 application that allows users to transcribe documents which ‘help[s] the Archives improve the discover-ability of documents by making its contents searchable’.

Screenshot of transcription process on The Hive

Screenshot of transcription process on The Hive

This concept is similar to that of Wikipedia, in that it relies on its users to contribute to its platform and trusts its users with its content, and just as many denounce Wikipedia as an unreliable information source, some in the archival profession are wary of users having such control over transcribing records.

So let’s find out how The Hive measures up to some of the characteristics of O’ Reilly’s pattern of harnessing collective intelligence.

Users Add Value

2520 of 4517 archival records on The Hive’s website are now able to be searched online as a direct result of the transcribing efforts of The Hive’s users, so it is clear that they are adding value to the Archives’ database. Some users are transcribing items so that they can request the item be digitised straight away. In this way they are adding value to the Archives’ itself as an institution, indirectly as a side-effect of their transcribing.

Users can communicate with each other by commenting on each individual record so there is the opportunity for users to connect with each other by way of their shared interests. At this point in time there isn’t an opportunity for users to create or upload their own content, but as the premise of the project is centred on reproducing and modifying content, this does not seem to be an issue.

Network effects magnify this value

Access to the archival collection increases as more and more people transcribe records, which in turns adds more value to The Hive as well as the National Archives of Australia, and as users are able to modify errors in previous entries,  ‘the consistency and quality improve as more people participate’ which is the case with Wikipedia.

Reward Users First

But how does The Hive convince users to spend hours of their free time on this sort of activity?

After all, nobody does something for nothing. But O’ Reilly explains that  ‘applications can be constructed in such a way as to direct their users to perform specific tasks’.

Users’ transcriptions are instantaneous, giving them an immediate sense of accomplishment, also known as intrinsic motivation. The Hive also employs gamification techniques by allocating points, providing a leaderboard and awarding prizes for a certain number of transcriptions. One of the prizes is a copy of a record of interest to the user, free of charge. Rewarding users with something that is of interest to them personally, may encourage them to continue pursuing that interest by way of The Hive.

            So there you have it! Trust and reward your users and they will become your very own worker bees! Would these incentives encourage you to participate too?


Minecraft – Lightweight, cost-effective, scalable?

Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things’. Click on the clip below to view Minecraft’s explanation of where Minecraft can take your imagination!

On the social front, Minecraft is all about utilising the precepts of Web 2.0 to create a community of gamers. Another game that takes advantage of community solidarity is Dragonvale.

The last pattern of Web 2.0 as outlined by Tim O’ Reilly, involves Lightweght Models and Cost-Effective Scalability.

This pattern speaks to me and here is what I think it is saying – in business you can make things easier on yourself – do more with less, start small and invest small. Create a product or service in which your users spread the word and create more business for you, and then work your way up as demand grows. This means that if for some reason your project isn’t successful, you aren’t left with an unthinkable amount of debt and your dreams crashing around you.  Minecraft shows us this pattern in action.

minecraft image

Minecraft image [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://hd-wallpaper.com/minecraft-logo-wallpaper/

Minecraft scales with demand. As more people join Minecraft, the more the game and the broader systems need to be developed, and the more it needs to be available on other platforms. Minecraft moved from PC, to smartphone apps, to Xbox 360!

Minecraft outsources where possible. In early 2011 Minecraft started operating through Amazon Web Services. This keeps employee numbers down to less than 30 employees because additional staff are not needed to maintain hardware – the epitome of a lightweight model if you ask me!

Minecraft scales its pricing and revenue models. The amount of money you give Minecraft depends on your level of engagement with the game. You can install the Minecraft Pocket Edition Lite smartphone app for free, purchase the Pocket Edition for $7.49 or spend around $20.00 for the PC and Xbox versions.

Minecraft markets virally by allowing users to log in via Faceook, Twitter and Tumblr. But that’s not at all. Minecraft’s users are taking viral marketing to a new level. Type in Minecraft on YouTube and you will see video after video of examples of what people have created using the game. There are even tutorials as well!

Minecraft has designed for scale. Including the Web 2.0 element in a game is definitely the way to go these days. The value of the game increases as the user base increases. More interactivity with other players is key!

So what do you think? How well do you think Minecraft demonstrates this week’s pattern? And will this sort of business model be the future of all businesses one day?


Last.fm – Leveraging the Long Tail

Last.fm is a music website that takes note of the music you currently listen to, and uses a technique called scrobbling to provide you with recommendations of similar music that you may also enjoy.


Headphones Smiley [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jekhinji.deviantart.com/art/Headphones-Smiley-60513279

Last.fm is a great example of Chris Anderson’s theory of the Long Tail and follows Tim O’ Reilly’s best practice recommendations in one of his patterns of Web 2.0, Leveraging the Long Tail.

Leveraging the Long Tail is all about taking advantage of the connectability of the Internet to reach smaller markets that were once not economically viable to exploit. Production and distribution costs are much lower, and your users can do a lot of the work for you, in terms of recruiting new users and contributing content.

The clip below features two classmates discussing the Long Tail theory – I’m not sure why one of the characters is dressed as a ninja though!

So now that you have an understanding of Long Tail theory, here are some of the ways that Last.fm Leverages the Long Tail.

1) Build on the driving forces of the Long Tail

a) Democratised tools of production

Last.fm aggregates its products by encouraging artists and labels to upload their work. More importantly than that though, Last.fm heavily relies on scrobbling and its API to provide its service, so really, it wouldn’t exist without its users’ contributions!

b) Decreased cost of consumption by virtue of democratised distribution.

Last.fm’s users play an important role in sharing what they’re listening to on the site. There is the option to log in with a Facebook account which will share your Last.fm activity for all on your friends list to see, and you can share sounds on Twitter, Google Plus and by email.

c) New forms of connecting supply and demand

I personally think that this is the area in which Last.fm particularly excels and distinguishes itself from other music websites that are taking advantage of the Long Tail phenomenon, eg. SoundCloud. Last.fm already knows in great detail what type of music you as an individual are listening to and their recommendation system strategically connects product to user. This level of personalisation is completely necessary as there are so many musical genres and such a vast amount of content on Last.fm.

2) Use algorithmic data management to match supply and demand

So, as I just explained, scrobbling is a great data management method but Last.fm uses other ways too. The most popular genres being listened to at any given moment are listed on the homepage, showing exactly how many people are listening.

(3) Use an architecture of participation to match supply and demand

Users can leave comments on every track and can also write and edit summaries of artists. This is an example of harnessing collective intelligence. In order to control the wisdom of the crowds, users need to log in to their account to contribute to the site and are able to flag inappropriate content.

(4) Leverage customer self-service to cost effectively reach the entire web

Everything on Last.fm is pretty much self-service, from setting up and managing your profile, to troubleshooting your problems. Users even answer each other’s questions  on the help forum!  The site is available in a number of languages as well, so anyone, anywhere, with an Internet connection can connect with Last.fm!

(5) Leverage the low-cost advantages of being online

Last.fm saves on customer service by providing a great search and filtering service, they save on advertising because their users are spreading the word, and they save on production and distribution costs… now that’s what I call smart money!

I’ll end this post with an ethical dilemma. Saskia Korsten mentions on her blog that Last.fm users are providing a ton of useful marketing information to get that level of personalisation I was talking about earlier. But this is true of many Web 2.0 applications. Has anyone been aware or bothered about this in their experiences with Web 2.0?


Why Facebook keeps reinventing itself

The sixth pattern of Web 2.0 as outlined by Tim O’ Reilly, concerns perpetual beta and Facebook is all about perpetual beta.

My definition of beta (in terms of software development) is the not-quite-there-yet prototype that is being tweaked constantly with the promise of a finished version. Perpetual beta, in my mind is a different concept – software developers constantly striving for that perfect version knowing that it will never eventuate, and providing users with the opportunity to guide them on how to keep changing and improving the service. This is important because with all the new and varied social media applications available out there, applications like Facebook need to keep things fresh.

When Facebook updated recently, I used the ‘Messages’ function, and was surprised to see that the face of the friend I had just messaged was hanging in mid-air in a circle. I admit that it was a bit thrilling to see something new. So updates can be exciting, but also downright unwelcome – if my friends’ opinions of the new Microsoft Outlook are anything to go by!

You won’t be able to make everyone happy but to avoid making the majority unhappy, Facebook has integrated some of these best practices.

1) Release early and release often

New features have been seamlessly integrated across Facebook’s many versions. Examples of changes are the ways photos are displayed, amalgamating the ‘Chat’ and ‘Messages’ feature as one, and the introduction of Facebook Timeline.

(2) Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers

The original Facebook Timeline was made available for testing in September 2011 before being released to Facebook users and now that Facebook is changing Timeline again, it is testing it in New Zealand before releasing it to the rest of the world, as can be seen in the YouTube clip below.

As outlined in the video, ‘Facebook will collect user feedback and data from the tests and use that to tweak the design before making the change official’.

Allow users to voice their opinion

Allow users to voice their opinion

Facebook Stamp [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/wynnie/5525677854/

Many people I know detest Facebook Timeline so it does make me wonder how effective the testing actually is. In the initial stage when Timeline was being introduce to individuals’ accounts gradually, going on someone’s computer when they weren’t around and signing them up to Timeline voluntarily was a great way to annoy them!

3) Instrument your product

Facebook monitors how users utilise certain features, and tests proposed changes.

As part of the effort to improve Chat, we’ve been testing an interface without the ‘clear chat history’ link prominently displayed, since only a small number of people use it.

Based on the tests, we’ve decided to keep the ‘clear chat history’ link and to optimize it’s placement within the Chat interface. Given its low usage, we are placing it at the top of the Chat scroll ― where it is still easily accessible without cluttering UI space throughout the course of the chat. We believe this solution strikes a good balance between the many different interests of the millions of people on Facebook Chat.’

Touching base with your users is paramount in this day and age.

(4) Incrementally create new products

Facebook is forever creating new products such as the Facebook phone, Facebook Home and Facebook’s Translation Tool, ensuring that the brand permeates the world of social media.

(5) Make operations a core competency

Careers available at Facebook in design, user experience and product management  show that operations are just as important as the application.

(6) Use dynamic tools and languages

Facebook uses a range of complex languages and tools such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, C+++, Javascript, Python and XHTML.

Due to an update somewhere along the line, I cannot prevent people who are not Facebook friends from messaging me! New versions sometimes make me uneasy because I am not sure if an important privacy feature has been taken away in exchange for a new and exciting feature. It has made me realise that with certain apps – we need to keep up with them as much as they need to keep up with us.

Has anyone had a negative or positive experience as a result of changes and/or improvements to your favourite application?


Facebook vs Twitter – which one does it better?

There is no doubt that mobile and smartphone devices are the future of the Web. I now see my desktop computer as inconvenient and bulky, something I definitely cannot take with me on the run to help me in my day -to-day life. Amazing isn’t it? Less than two years ago I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.

Now my smartphone is my personal assistant. It’s not just a telephone; it’s where I can connect with my friends via social media, it’s a photo album, a GPS, a games console, a study tool and a music library. But consider this – without the Internet – my smartphone is almost worthless! And with the internet it is unstoppable!

Thanks to these devices and their compatibility with the World Wide Web, we can access data and services that we rely on, anytime we want to, and we can also share that information. The sharing aspect seems to be the new deal-breaker with regards to what makes a successful Web 2.0 application.

‘Software above the level of a single device’  is the fifth of eight patterns of Web 2.0 as outlined by Tim O’ Reilly, and it basically means that your device or application shouldn’t provide just one service or function. People want to be able to do multiple things with one product, and they want to be able to share what they are doing with the world.

Facebook and Twitter are two of the largest social media applications that are in the business of sharing. My personal belief is that Facebook follows the tenets of the above pattern and utilises a lot of what the internet has to offer, while Twitter is struggling to catch up. But…I’m happy to be proved wrong!

Facebookvstwitter [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bigbellyworld.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/facebookvstwitter.jpg

Both Facebook and Twitter have been designed from the start to share data across devices, servers, and networks. On Facebook, you can share status updates, pictures, videos, game requests, pages you like, and connect with other groups and businesses. Twitter does a small minority of this, which is not enough for me ;).

Facebook thinks location aware. Not only can you check in at your exact location, get directions to a business or other location, but you can select a location and see what’s happening nearby that’s relevant to your social network. Twitter only allows you to set your location. *Sigh*.

Facebook also wins in the extend to web 2.0 devices department. Facebook acts as your address book, but also the place where you can drop someone a line, a notice board that keeps you up-to-date with events and your friends’ news. Facebook allows you to store your pictures for people to browse, play games with others, and form a study group. Talk about versatility! Twitter does not offer much here in my opinion. I like that Twitter can serve as an e-book and I can read long and interesting articles that people have shared with me, but I can’t really store anything and sharing opinions publicly on Twitter is not a seamless experience at all due to way comments are displayed.

So, share your thoughts with me! Am I on the money, or am I blind to the wonders of Twitter with regards to this week’s pattern?


How can we provide a rich user experience? (P)interesting question…

Pinterest is a website that allows users to share photos and organise them in a pin-board style. When I first heard of Pinterest, I thought – you’ll have to offer more than that to (P)interest me! What Pinterest was offering sounded like something I could do on my desktop computer without an Internet connection. But after signing up for an account and doing some browsing for images of interest to me, I understood Pinterest’s selling point.

The socialisation factor.

Being able to see, comment on, and share the images that other people are collecting, gives the whole exercise a purpose and provides the user with an experience.  Overall Pinterest is providing users with a good one, which leads me to one of Tim O’ Reilly’s patterns of successful Web 2.0 applications – providing users with a rich user experience.

‘The “wealth” of a user experience comes… from how readily the system gets people communicating: discovering, contributing, and sharing information’.

Pinterest enhances the more traditional process of collecting and scrap boarding images using actual paper (shock, horror) or desktop applications, by allowing much more social interaction and an interface that is highly interactive but still remarkably simple to use. Users can create their own pin boards and collections, can comment, re-pin and like images, intuitively and easily.

The search function that Pinterest provides only adds to the simplicity of the application. Instead of just using Google Search to locate random images, I can search within Pinterest and view other people’s collections and ideas. Planning a wedding for example is made easier, because you can follow others’ journeys through images and even comment and interact with the person who ‘pinned’ an image.

To further provide a seamless experience, you don’t always need to be on the site to access its content. Integration is available via Facebook and Twitter, which also keeps people updated on what you are interested in.

Now, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me as I explore more and more Web 2.0 applications, that personalisation is very important to their success. I haven’t done too many searches in Pinterest  yet so I haven’t directly experienced this personalisation, but Pinterest’s Privacy Policy indicates that customized content is indeed suggested to users. It’s nice to know that if I am constantly browsing images for sharks, Pinterest is all for helping me find some more.


Image [Pinterest_Shark] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pinterest_Shark.jpg

Personalisation is achieved via cookies. Your usage is logged, not only when you are browsing Pinterest but other sites as well. I don’t have a problem with this in theory – this is a common strategy used by social media websites – YouTube is an excellent example and it definitely benefits the user.

But here is where I think Pinterest are overstepping the mark a little.

I am still relatively new to Pinterest and have never followed anyone. To my surprise, when I logged in today I discovered that there are 55 people that I am following! This  insightful blog post explains why this sometimes occurs.  Wait A Minute – Pinterest’s Sign Up Process Is Downright Sketchy. I am not sure why Pinterest have suggested that I would like the pinners that I am now ‘following’, as I have never browsed anything remotely related to them on any website, but more importantly, why they have taken the next step and followed them for me? I don’t mind confessing that I feel a bit violated. This is the first time that a social media site has taken such liberties on my behalf – at least to my knowledge.

What does everyone think about this?  Is this sort of activity necessary, in the name of providing a rich user experience?


Innovation in Assembly? SoundCloud hits the right notes!

SoundCloud is the world’s leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere.

But in the world of Web 2.0, SoundCloud does something just as important. It allows users to get involved in the way we experience SoundCloud.  It does this by providing users with its data, enabling them to create their own APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) which add value to SoundCloud’s already existing applications. This concept is outlined in one of Tim O’ Reilly’s patterns of Web 2.0, ‘Innovation in Assembly’.  ‘When commodity components are abundant, you can create value simply by assembling them in novel or effective ways’. 

There are ten best practices that are recommended to gain maximum benefit from this concept and SoundCloud addresses all of them.

Let’s explore how!

1. Offer APIs to your service. A great example of this concept is ‘Radio for SoundCloud’ which is an app designed by a third party. The premise of this app is that SoundCloud’s music is utilised in a radio segment format, using SoundCloud’s content.

2. Design for remixability. The ‘Radio for SoundCloud’ app would not be possible if SoundCloud’s content wasn’t easily available for disassembling and remixing.

3. Apply API best practices. SoundCloud really gets behind its voluntary developers by providing genuine developer support infrastructure. A website has been created just for them with the required documentation and tips to get started as well as a forum to ask questions and a blog to keep SoundCloud and its developers connected.

4. Use existing standards. SoundCloud not only uses existing standards but is concerned with using standards that will improve user engagement. As an example, SoundCloud replaced Flash with HTML 5, to support sound sharing on mobile platforms.

5. Build your business model into your API. SoundCloud’s APIs all enhance an important business objective – sharing sounds everywhere, and with 10, 000 developers at their disposal, that’s an achievable goal.

6. Use Web 2.0 to support your platform. SoundCloud utilises essential Web 2.0 components by allowing its users to comment, like and repost sounds. Users can private message each other and read SoundCloud’s blog.

7. Be your own platform customer. SoundCloud developed its own application for mobile devices which enhances the user experience.  Users are always updated due to push notifications, meaning that SoundCloud is always hovering around in the background. SoundCloud allows users to embed its music in their own website or blog which is a great way to disperse its content all over the Web.

8. Granular accessibility of content. The ‘Granular Web’ is all about ‘making web development componentised and outsourceable’. SoundCloud is certainly providing the means and the raw data for users to do some of the work for the company!

9. Use your platform to build customer trust and loyalty. SoundCloud hosts internal hackathons and encourages its users to submit hacks. There’s no better way to show users that their input is valued!

10. Learn from how your customers remix. Hackathons also allow SoundCloud to learn from their users and it is clear that SoundCloud wishes to utilise their users’ talent – the developers’ website encourages users to think about applying for a paid position!


Inbox making happy [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved by http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulamarttila/6751712175/.

If SoundCloud continues to hit the right notes in its innovative approach to development, it will benefit both the company and its users  – now that’s music to our ears!

What does everyone think? Does anyone use the APIs of any online service? Would you consider becoming a developer?


YouTube – Is it really all about you?

I hadn’t  ever really given much thought to the name YouTube before. But after analysing YouTube against one of Tim O Reilly’s patterns ‘Data is the next Intel Inside’, YouTube couldn’t have chosen a better name. Because it really is all about YOU, the user… and your data of course. This concept is all about data as the commodity, rather than a web application’s function.

YouTube - created by us

YouTube – created by us

                       YouTube icon [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurgenappelo/7749081576/

YouTube are experts in using your data and then making sure you or we continue to interact with it.

Think about it.

You Tube owns a unique, hard to recreate source of data. All of the site’s content is generated by users and there’s something exciting about knowing I can post my own content on YouTube right now and that if it weren’t for people like me uploading videos, YouTube wouldn’t exist. That I can watch pretty much any music video I want at any time, when not too long ago I had to wait every weekend for Video Hits and hope that I hadn’t missed my favourite artist of the month, is mind blowing. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think YouTube and its users are solely responsible for the revolutionised way we access music.

And boy, does YouTube enhance the core data or what?

Firstly the opportunity to comment is genius. After all, who doesn’t want to put their two cents in? If I am watching something really controversial or just a bit pathetic (such as YouTubers who think their ‘singing’ is going to be their ticket to fame) I want to see if people agree with my point of view and I love it when people are having a disagreement in the comment box!  In his blog, Jason Van Dyk observes that on websites such as YouTube, ‘there is a far greater focus on the conversations between users, as opposed to providing a place for advertisers to promote brands’.

I agree with Jason – yes there is a greater focus but that doesn’t mean that there is not a focus on the dollar sign – there has to be. When YouTube started streaming ads at the beginning of videos, I was surprised but I quickly got over it because at the end of the day, there are all those great enhancements for the users.

On many an occasion, YouTube has suggested videos I might be interested in based on the videos I watched on my last visit and it’s sort of embarrassing to know that what I’ve been watching for hours on end, is stored somewhere. You can also see how many likes and dislikes a video has had, and detailed statistics on how many people have watched it and how they found it.  So it’s pretty obvious that YouTube have data on you and us.


The Matrix [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://crimsondiabolics.deviantart.com/art/The-Matrix-136586049

I think it’s a two-way street. In return for our data, YouTube lets users control their own data. We can embed videos into our blogs, email them to anyone and share them on other applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, Bebo and Digg. We can modify videos that we have uploaded, add links to other videos, only allow certain people to see them and we can remove our videos from the site. I really appreciate that freedom – to undo something that has been done. I used to seethe with anger when Facebook required me to explain why I wanted to be untagged from a photo, to the person who tagged me, before my request could be granted.

Am I being too kind to YouTube? I would love to hear your thoughts!