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ABC News, Newsweek Spotlight Web 2.0

The mainstream media are waking up to the wave of user-generated websites.
April 13, 2006

One of the pleasures of working for Technology Review is having the opportunity to cover a technology trend well before it’s emerged into the general consciousness, then watching as the mainstream media gradually pick up the story. That’s happening right now with the “Web 2.0” concept.

Newsweek put Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, the Canadian dot-com stars who created the photo-sharing community Flickr, on the cover of its April 3 issue, to go with Steven Levy and Brad Stone’s terrific story “The New Wisdom of the Web.” And just today, ABCNews.com is running an interview with yours truly introducing newbies to the Web 2.0 idea – see “The Next Generation Internet” (streaming video, 8 minutes).

Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe of MySpace, along with husband-and-wife team Butterfield and Fake, are the main characters in Newsweek’s story. Their businesses exemplify how a little capital and a little programming can create a fun, friendly environment for massive quantities of shared, user-generated content – images in Flickr’s case, personal profiles in MySpace’s. (I can’t help noting that we first covered Flickr in July 2004.) 

My favorite passage in the Newsweek piece: “As we keep offloading our activities to the Web and adding previously unmanageable or unthinkable new pursuits, it’s fair to say that our everyday existence is a network effect.” That’s exactly what I was trying to say in my story “Social Machines,” published in Technology Review last August. I argued that the spread of mobile computing devices, broadband wireless connections, and new Web technologies for the creation and sharing of personal content are combining to foster a new state of existence that I called “continuous computing.”

Laudably, the Newsweek piece attempts to preempt the awful industry jargon term “Web 2.0” with “the live Web,” which is more approachable, if not terribly accurate. But “Web 2.0” has more momentum, and I think we’re stuck with it for the time being.

Among mainstream publications, Business Week seems more aware of the phenomenon than most others. It followed up its excellent cover package “Blogs Will Change Your Business” from May 2005, with a December covery story, “The MySpace Generation.”

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