Untangling Web 2.0

An aspiring information professional shedding light on the Web 2.0 phenomenon

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?