Sep 30

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

What is Web 2.0?

I took a stab at answering the question What is Web 2.0? in an essay I wrote for distribution at our Web 2.0 Conference. The essay will disappoint those who look for a hard and fast definition, because I tend to think about the gravitational core that holds a solar system of ideas and experiences together, rather than some kind of box to contain them. But hopefully, it's a useful contribution. If I had to pick out one of the principles that I highlight as the most significant addition to my thinking on the subject, it would be this: Web 2.0 is about systems that harness collective intelligence.

There isn't provision for comment on the article itself, so please give any feedback you might have on the article to me here. [Actually, turns out there is. You can leave comments in either place, and I'll see and respond to them.]

P.S. Interestingly, the fact that I'm using Flickr for figures in my writing these days led to a leak of one part of the essay before the piece as a whole was published. I posted a "Web 2.0 meme map" to flickr so I could reference it from there in the article. I thought I'd get the article up before anyone noticed it, but I was surprised to see Business Week pick it up last week.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 16   | Sphere It

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Comments: 16

  Josh Owens [09.30.05 08:08 PM]


Good read. We actually discussed the map in question on our latest podcast...

  Shamil [10.01.05 01:48 AM]


Great article explaining not only Web 2.0 but underlying psychology and business logic.

There is one doubt though - access. Isn't Access a critical component to make the Web 2.0 a ubiquotous platform? It appears to me that a monopoly could emerge in this capital-intensive business as entire networks are owned by a few large telecom companies.

Would appreciate your thoughts on the above,

  Douglass Turner [10.01.05 07:58 AM]

Excellent piece. What Web 2.0 does not address indeed is incapable of addressing is the need for fundamental advancement in the user interface of the Web. The Internet is the platform, but Loose Coupling and Mashups create woeful interfaces.

If you want to get a look at where Web interfaces need to go, take a look at our work in search interface technology called SearchIris:



  Tim O'Reilly [10.01.05 10:33 AM]

I said I'm not fond of definitions, but I woke up this morning with the start of one in my head:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

  C. Enrique Ortiz [10.01.05 05:19 PM]

Do you remember "the network is the computer"? Web 2.0 is based on that same concept, except that Web 2.0 further defines what the network should be -- an open and always available architecture and set of services, that can be consumed as is, or combined into compound services, that are accessible via open and consistent methods, regardless of device, platform, computer language.


  SutroStyle [10.01.05 11:37 PM]

You should really look into this news before you muse about web 2.0 - this might be the more important:,1895,1865104,00.asp

  Thomas Madsen-Mygdal [10.02.05 01:35 PM]

I'm very disappointed that you're promoting company owned data silos as a core of web2.0.

"Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them".

All though you describe the free data movement as something that will come the result before that wil be many years of lockin.

Products where the product actually is the community/commons. Products that gets network effects and requires people to use their product to be a part of the community/commons.

Is it really "web2.0" to lock your customers in and basing your business model on aggregration of your customers data. And at the same limiting competition because of network effects. When simple open standards could allow decentralization today - and in many instances all ready is doing it. (What would the blogosphere be like if it was based on this centralized model).

Why should'nt we be able to do this now - and why not promote this model which all ready is emerging in many ways?

  Suresh Kumar [10.02.05 01:40 PM]

I don't think Tim was promoting Data silos...

i think he was making the point that Web 2.0 company knows how to extend the value of a 'data-set' that they may not necessarily own..

Google Maps and Amazon are examples of that.

  Tim O'Reilly [10.02.05 03:15 PM]

Thomas --

What Suresh said is correct.

However, I *do* believe that owning a hard-to-recreate source of data will bee seen as a competitive advantage in the Web 2.0 era. Recognizing that fact is not "promoting" it. If anything, it will allow those who value free access to data to take steps to ensure that they own their own data, rather than getting sucked into various schemes where other people have them by the short hairs because they don't realize what the levers of power are.

  choi li akiro singh santos [10.03.05 09:07 AM]

East Asia is already on Web 4.0 :-)

Great summary. The discussion and examples ignore the real changes sweeping East Asia. The last time I checked it is the WORLD Wide Web. East Asia is paving the way as far the next generation Internet -- while North America is stuck at 1-3 megabits, we are at 10 megabits.

Here is a recent article on Web 4.0 in South Korea:

One cannot underestimate the potential of multi-player games in creating persistent virtual environments. Warcraft has hundreds of thousands of FANATIC users in South Korea alone:*aDlRwEA/magazine/content/05_38/b3951085.htm

We in the east think that our edge in bandwidth will allow us to not look too much to the West this time around. We may not be doing much in terms of conceptualizing the framework we are in, but things are moving so fast out here, we defer to you bandwidth-starved folks in the West on that point.
As William Gibson aptly said, "The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet."

Perhaps another core competency is the ability to function and build communities in a multi-lingual WWW.

  Thomas Madsen-Mygdal [10.04.05 05:13 AM]


I understand your position.

Allthough i respect your "radar" tremendously i think it's off a bit on this one. There's data proving that what you're promoting/decontructing isn't the emerging model.

And that piece of data is that little thing called the blogosphere.

If one sat down and read your article, accepted that as best practice the whole blogosphere would be running one giant ebay-style service where you'd need to be in order to be a part of the party. All the early blog pioneers recognized that they we're part of something bigger and any attempts to centralize it would fail. So they created rss, ping, metaweblog api, etc. Blogs we're decentralized from their very beginning.
Imagine the less amount of innovation that would've happened if all the tools and services was controlled by a single company.

What is happening now is that all the new companies aren't pushing open standards, creating light versions of the semantic web in their spaces, etc. They are pushing the ebay best practice of the middle 90's - not the decentralized web model that really is the core of what's happening.

So imho there's data to back that this is the emerging model. And in my opinion especially at times where you know this is gonna become hype/buzz there's certainly a possibility to take a stand and make sure we don't go down 10 years in the same wrong path as before.

I think you're underestimating the impact you're having on this one and thereby the responsibity.

As Brenda Laurel says in a great quote:
"Stories, movies, videogames and websites don't have to be about values to have a profound influence on values. Values are everywhere, embedded in every aspect of our culture and lurking in the very natures of our media and technologies. Culture workers know the question isn't whether they are there but who is taking responsibility for them, how they are being shaped, and how they are shaping us for the future."

At the core the web2.0 should be about giving up control on users and data - and recognizing that your little company is only a very little part of something much larger whether it's in your field or in general.

  Tim O'Reilly [10.04.05 09:14 AM]

Thomas -

I think you misunderstand my position. It's far more nuanced than the idea that either centralization OR decentralization is a trump card. I believe that decentralization is a key driver of innovation in Web 2.0 (P2P, web services, blogging -- and the fundamental architecture of the web, or the internet itself, being good examples.) But each wave of decentralization leads to clever new forms of centralization, clever new forms of competitive advantage.

I'm willing to take a large bet that the blogosphere is NOT the counter example that you argue for. Why? History repeats itself. The rhetoric of the early web was much the same as the rhetoric of blogging: everyone is equal, anyone can put up a web site. Not only that, the web was one of the most profoundly decentralized architectures you can imagine, with zero barriers to entry. Yet within only a decade, we had giant companies so powerful that a whole industry has grown up whereby the "long tail" of decentralization tries to optimize their notice by the search engines, who are now at the hugely profitable head of the once flat web.

And this is already happening in blogging. Look at the influence of sites like Technorati, Feedster, Bloglines etc. in annointing "the top bloggers" (who get increasing attention as a result). Notice also how many of the sites in the top 100 blogs are already owned not by individuals but by blog publishing companies like Weblogsinc and Gawker Media.

As to taking a stand, I will take my stand here: identifying a trend is not promoting it. Is an scientist who writes about global warming promoting it?

I see all around me people who understand that the business opportunity is in controlling key data sources, or building network-effect businesses that give them a preeminent position in what was originally a decentralized marketplace.

How you choose to react to that is up to you. Some people will make it part of their business plan, others will try to oppose it. But knowing that that is the game is step one.

If you look at my talks (and I've been talking about this for quite a few years), one slide I frequently show is one about the Internet Operating System, with two images, and the question, "What kind of operating system do we want?" The two images: "One ring to bind them", and a routing map of the Internet, with the caption "Small Pieces Loosely Joined."

I love the "small pieces loosely joined" architecture of the Internet and of the most successful open source projects, and I spend a great deal of my time promoting the benefits of that architecture. But I also recognize the counterforce, and understand its attraction, perhaps even its inevitability.

When Steven Levy was working on the profile he did of me in the recent issue of Wired, we talked about this dynamic. I quoted from a poem of Wallace Stevens (Esthetique du Mal): "the tragedy begins again, in the yes of the realist spoken because he must say yes, because beneath every no lay a yes that had never been broken."

Decentralization is overcome by re-centralization again and again (the PC, once the haven of homebrew hackers, became the core of huge corporate hegemonies; the internet followed the same path; so too will the latest generation of applications.) Yet innovation comes again and again from the fringes, because of something in us that keeps inventing a new, free future, and will not take no for an answer.

That dynamic is the core of progress. It was only through the profit impulse, which led to huge companies taking control of these once decentralized hacker projects, that they were brought to the general public. The hackers move on, and make the future interesting again.

It's really all quite lovely.

  George Chiramattel [10.14.05 12:18 PM]

Hi Tim,

First of all let me congratulate you on this beautiful article.

I would also like to add to this discussion.
If the Internet represents the 'collective intelligence of humanity' then in my opinion we require better tooling to utilize it. I wouldn't expect the 'virtual brain of humanity' to come with a 'search box' as its primary interface :-)

At the following URL, I have described how we can build a better tool to handle the huge volume of information that is getting published on the net. I call this tool FolkMind.

  gogle [06.15.06 02:59 AM]

well. I'm willing to take a large bet that the blogosphere is NOT the counter example that you argue for. Why? History repeats itself.
History never repeats.
I am not argue with you.

  Alex Szilaghi [01.11.07 08:59 PM]

The web 2.0 is the future. Is really hard to define something that is just starting. Anyhow keep up writing. You have good info on your articles.

  taly weiss [01.17.07 07:23 AM]

Web 2.0 is an open to all platform, as such – it must hold all information with no restrains. That is the beauty of this platform and yes, it does imply that you will find a lot of irrelevant information (The web 2.0 antagonists claim that "we get too much crap"). But, this is exactly why contribution is necessary. If you meet unimportant information – you should "bury" it, or rank it low. This contribution will serve to sort the information by its relevancy and true value. I see contribution as means not only for adding more information but as a key to help others navigate in the endless information offered. With others actively responding you can decide what is best to read and what is worth your attention.
Improving the contribution behavior is a necessary key to web 2.0 success but unfortunately it hasn't yet received the attention it deserves. We can easily recognize that not a lot do contribute to this collective intelligence as the ratio data (views per voters or per rankers, viewers per comments; viewers per members) found at web 2.0 reach about 3-5% at most.
For more on this issue see,

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