What’s Web 2.0 in a youth view?

At first glance, the Web 2.0 looks like a buzzword for attracting the attention from both VC and Internet users. Everybody talks about it, but few can tell what it is. For the startups, Web 2.0 strategies promise next YouTube or Facebook in their Business Plans. For Internet users, Web 2.0 sounds like cool and fashion. You are left in the Stone Age if you haven’t had a MySpace homepage or have never visited YouTube for hilarious video clips. In the other side, to my knowledge, all the success Web 2.0 companies like YouTube, Facebook that we might use everyday never declare themselves as Web 2.0 companies explicitly, although they are considered as the flagships of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 also has nothing to do with technological innovations or the next generation Internet. So is web2.0 hype or propaganda?

Web 2.0 is all about communication, sharing and passion for our Y-Generation

It is easy to assert that Web 2.0 is nothing but a buzzword. But it’s an illusion. We use the Internet everyday. To our own experience, the contemporary Web is something for us as we can feel the life has changed since the beginning of Web 2.0. However, even we create it, use it, and talk about it, the one million dollar questions are still there: What is the definition of web 2.0 in the dictionary of youth and what’s the big deal about Web2.0 for us? Needless to say, youth has their own definition about Web 2.0 as they experience “their” web 2.0 everyday. Although there is a very detailed definition of the term Web 2.0 in Tim O’Reilly’s article “What is Web 2.0”, it is still hard to define what it is for youth. The study of Web 2.0 and youth is interesting enough to write a whole book about it. To make the long story short, here, I would like to say, Web 2.0 is all about communication, sharing and passion for our Y-Generation. Web2.0 are our creations, our portals, our communities and our web classrooms.

Web 2.0: Created by Youth.

YouTube was founded by Chad Hurley (at age 28), Steve Chen (27), and Jawed Karim (26); MySpace was founded in July 2003 by Tom Anderson (28); Facebook was created by Mark Zuckerberg (20) in 2004 when he was sophomore. Why Web 2.0 is more likely to be created by the young generation? To understand this, we need to have a deep insight towards the definition of Web 2.0. Despite the bells and whistles, Web 2.0 is nothing more about a new application platform instead of an evolutionary technology. Actually the key technology of Web2.0, which is usually referred as Ajax, was born in the early 2000. Web 2.0 is an updated version of World Wide Web. The original purpose of the World Wide Web is to make the Internet meet the increasing communication requirements around the world. Here, the key idea is to fit the communication requirements. Correspondingly, Web 2.0 is not a new technology or a new business model; it is a satisfaction of the long existing requirement on the Web. Technology and business model is second to the satisfactions of users’ communication requirements. Therefore, theoretically, in Web 2.0, as long as you have the new ideas that can cater for the communication requirements of the Internet user, it is fairly easy to get start as the resources has never been so accessible in Web 2.0 in terms of both investments and technical teams. Nearly in every corner of the world, you can find several groups or teams with members vary from professional businessmen to youth just graduated, talking about web 2.0 and working toward their dreams. The only differences are the content of their websites and the target users of the websites. Frankly speaking, bubble is everywhere in the contemporary Internet. VCs won’t just fund companies because it’s cool and you won’t provide users excellent service for free when no business model is presented. Still, thousands of youth with passion dive into the Web2.0 Ocean without caring about if the competition is overwhelming.

Web 2.0 is not a new technology or a new business model; it is a satisfaction of the long existing requirement on the Web.

Needless to say, to fit the requirements is much more challenging than to set up a website. The Internet giants like Yahoo and Google tend to cover every aspect of the Internet applications, but eventually, they can fit few as they are supposed to meet the need of everybody. As the history has told us several times: new requirements are usually discovered by grass-root instead of the elite or giants. From this perspective, Web2.0 has no differences with previous industrial booming. However, there is a significant factor that puts the youth as the avant-grade class in Web 2.0: the passion and the advantage in the age. For example, in the year 2006, about 76% of the Internet users China are below 25. Moreover, the new Internet users are mainly young generation and they are glad with new websites and to adopt new innovations. This phenomenon is not only observed in the China but also in other countries like United States and Korea. The young Internet users push the Internet atmosphere to the young end. It is well known that Facebook and MySpace are mainly created for youth. Originally the age limit for MySpace was 16 and up but it is 14 and up now. It more or less reflected that the Internet users are younger now. As the Internet is mainly used by youth now, there is no wonder that web 2.0 is mainly created by the Y-Generation.

Web 2.0, personal site and me-media for youth.

Now that the Web2.0 applications are created, the next important thing is making it flourish rather than letting it perish. As other Web1.0 websites, Web 2.0 also weaves networks with nothing special. However, this is a participatory web now. As TIMES has pointed out, this is all about “You”. People didn’t realize the values of their own in the Internet before. It is not because people are not brilliant enough to discovery their needs. The reason lies behind this is the lack of web service infrastructure. In the past, it is very hard to have your own website or web gallery on the Web, as at least you need to know HTML, flash and web programming. Additionally, very few websites provide free services like online picture management or blog systems. All these summed up made the users very hard to express themselves, even though they are very willing to. However, the advanced technology makes all of these services come to users via a simple registration. Now, as tons of websites are created every year that provides the photo uploading, online bookmark, video sharing or blog services for free, people start to use the web as their new platforms. Currently, without the difficulty, average Internet users can upload their contents–no matter it is an eyeball-catching article, a hilarious video or just a personal photo on the Web. They now focus on the contents instead of the irrelevant technological details. As the Web now is easy and ready to use, users now become the producer and director of the contents on the Internet. Usually people use the term UGC (User Generated Content) to describe this contemporary trend in Web 2.0.

The passion of youth makes the Web2.0 so vivid and happening.

You can image that Web 2.0 makes the Internet look like a fast growing organism that doubles itself every18 months. If Web 2.0 is so vivid, what is the personality of Web2.0 in youth perspective? To answer this, let’s see what is the personality of youth. Although there is no standard answer, when talking about youth, these words must in the top list: passion, fashion, thinking different, open and willing to make friends. Microsoft has a very famous slogan: “your potential, our passion”. In Web 2.0, probably the best slogan will be “your passion, our potential” for youth. How do I say that? As I’ve talked, Web 2.0 creates a new and easy-to-use platform and users are the actors and directors. The reason why they choose Web2.0 as the platform is partly the passion of the youth and partly the willing to show off–with passion, they are willing to express and contribute contents to show-off. Susan Ng, a Facebook user, said: “I want to tell others what I am doing”. Susan is not the only one who wants to show off on the Internet. Thousands of youth have personal web pages and write blog. The sidebar of blog is podcast, public photo gallery and video clips. All these media are in one category: me-media. Web 2.0 now becomes the me-media of youth and we are both the producers and consumers at one time. The passion of youth makes the Web2.0 so vivid and happening. Therefore, in my point of view, the personality of Web 2.0 is passion and showing off.

We not only share, we even meet. Web 2.0 as our communities

Wikipedia describes Web 2.0 (I cannot find the definition of Web 2.0 in other encyclopedias at the time I write this article) as “supposed second generation of Internet-based services”. Some typical Web 2.0 applications include social networking sites, wikis, and communication tools. It is far beyond the simple blog or podcast system for personal use. So one question arises: why are they on the Internet besides for expressing themselves? Actually, the motive for youth using Web 2.0 is one part showing off and one part meeting friends. As common Internet user, one of the most exciting finds in Web 2.0 for our youth is that our friends are on the Internet too. As Danah Boyd mentioned: “For most teens, it is simply a part of everyday life — they are there because their friends are there and they are there to hang out with those friends.” Web 2.0 is about connecting people, and making it for efficient for people to communicate. In the social network, it is nothing different than the real community: you should make yourself link-friendly.

But you may argue that Web1.0 also connects people, so why it is Web 2.0 instead of 1.0 that makes the communities possible? In the first place, you have to take the development of the Internet into account. As we know, community is based on the communication infrastructures such as email and instant messenger (IM). In the previous web, the companies put considerable efforts on building the basic communication tools to that can users can get connected. Only after that, can the users come up with the new requirements such as communities and special interest groups. Created in the year 2003, MySpace mainly serves 20-something and teens. It has blog, IM, mail, music video, chat and photo gallery and almost covers almost every possible communication approach on the Internet. MySpace provides every aspect of typical the personal website and thus attracts more and more users.

Get connected and stay connected.

In the second place, in the previous Internet, people were connected too; but it is difficult to stay connected, as the relationships on the Internet are unreal. For example, as I’ve said before, it is hard to set up personal profile in the previous web. Therefore, no one knows if you are a dog. However, now, in Web 2.0, since everyone has the public accessible web page, the public profile becomes real and the connections on the web are more concrete. It is not like eventually met some stranger in the road and the connection later missed; it is like a real community that everyone knows about each other. A report shows that MySpace takes about 11.9% of the total time spend online in the United States in December 2006, which is also miles ahead other websites. Why? Because comparing with other websites like Yahoo and MSN, it is easy to find friends on MySpace. The other mechanism to facilitate the real relationships is the offline communication. Internet is a virtual community, but the offline activities like parties and dating are real. In Facebook, if you are in a group, either fortunately or unfortunately, you will get tons of invitations from Wednesday to Friday about the parties or concerts on the weekend. Web 2.0 is the real community not only because it is related to the real world, but also it is the natural extension of the real community on the Internet. Web 2.0 was born to build the virtual community and turns out to be the web version of the real world.

Web 2.0, a new classroom

It is very easy to overlook the importance of these Web 2.0 sites in terms of education as they are usually time-killing websites for you. For example, one of my friends created a group named “I’m On Facebook When I Should Be Studying” and now they have lots members. Now, keeping youth in the classroom are overwhelming enigmatic challenges. There are, however, lots of educational websites that can be our classroom, on the Internet. Education is not only in the classroom or library now. It is also in the cyber space. If the world is really flat as Thomas L. Friedman argues, every student at every corner of the world can benefit from Web 2.0. Actually education on the Web brings together a community of learners into a virtual classroom. Jingxue Zhang is a student in China. He check the MIT OCW (Open Courseware) webpage regularly that provides “a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world”. He uses OCW to teach himself Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Nevertheless, he can discuss with his virtual classmates via newsgroup or email.

Play is not the only part of the youth’s life in Web 2.0

Since the birth of the Internet, education has no longer been limited by the time, place, media or instructor. However, even we are in the center of information explosion, ninety percent of the information we wade through will be useless and selecting that ten percent becomes a challenge. Web 2.0 settles this in an entirely different methodology–the power of community. Wikipedia is a hypertext writing system written collaboratively by volunteers. Comparing with blog system that emphasizes the personal knowledge or experience, Wikipedia highlights notable knowledge collaboration and sharing on the Internet. It becomes more and more important as an online encyclopedia. Jerry Kim, an undergraduate student in South Korea, says that he usually uses Wikipedia to get the basic idea about some unfamiliar terminologies then follows the external links and references to teach himself some concepts about Artificial Intelligence, a subfield of Computer Science. He also used Wikipedia to prepare the questions for the trivia night. He has confidence about the trivia cited from Wikipedia because if it contains mistake, someone will correct it in a blink. The basic idea of collective intelligence is that everyone has knowledge that is valuable so someone. Wikipedia and Web 2.0 are the platforms for this intelligence. Education is everywhere in Web 2.0. Even in Second Life, a 3-D virtual online game world that entirely built and owned by its users, many universities and educational institutions are already using it as a supplement to traditional classroom environments. Search engine and other Web 2.0 applications like Ask Yahoo also highly facilitates the knowledge discovery of youth. World Wide Web is worldwide classroom in Web 2.0 at this point.

Frankly speaking, Web 2.0 is a wide and hot topic as well as the youth. They offer considerable food for thought. The four aspects I listed here is one of many possible perspectives in talking about Web 2.0 and youth culture. There’s so much potential and I really believe that the passion of youth makes the Web so vivid and youth could directly benefit from riding the Web 2.0 wave. In the end, the bottom line boils down to one sentence: perhaps Web 2.0 is the most important force in shaping Internet and youth culture in the early twenty-first century.

About the author:

Eric You XU is an independent blogger. He writes blog posts in both Chinese and English. He defined himself as a Web 2.0 critic as well as an advocate. He received a Bachelor of Science degree at Nanjing University (China) and now he is a doctoral student at Washington University. He loves writing, thinking and exchanging inspirational ideas. You can reach him at youxu@wustl.edu

Notes: This is an invited article for ITU Techcom World Horizon magazine. I personally would like to thank the editor-in-chief, Mr. George Ran Ren, for his invitation and kind support. I also would like to thank the whole Horizon team for their endeavors and contribution in making such a wonderful and fascinating magazine. Thanks, George and all the team members. Keep up the good work.

(As it is an invited article, please do NOT copy-and-paste it elsewhere. Any kinds of comments are welcome. I will provide a link to the magazine once the magazine gets “out of beta”. :)