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Dec 18

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Interview with Der Spiegel

While on a recent trip to Germany, I was interviewed about Web 2.0 by Der Spiegel. The interviewer focused on whether or not I'm getting tired of the froth around Web 2.0, but my own favorite bit of the exchange was this one:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A thought experiment on the wisdom of crowds. Say you have a visitor from another planet, an alien, and you want to show him human culture. Would you show him the top ten videos on YouTube? Or a random sample of MySpace pages?

O'Reilly: No. There is an American comedian {Jack Handy] whose answer to that question was: "[We'd say] 'This isn't really our civilization, it's just something we're playing around with. Come back in 10 years and we'll show you our real civilization.' Either that or we'd shoot them when they turned around to go back into their spaceship." But seriously: I would show them Google and say: "This is the furthest we've come towards an artificial intelligence, what do you think of that?" I'd show them some of our great works of art. I'd show them some of the things that we're doing wrong and say: "Do you have any ideas about how to fix this?"

[Note: I have edited the quote above slightly from the interview to correct errors in the transcription. It would be nice to have a wiki-interface to fix interview errors in the original (although you'd need the change log to be visible!)]

P.S. They followed up with a couple of additional questions for an extended edition. I thought I might include my answers here:

1. The terms "WeMedia" and "Participatory Media" are used to describe that users are increasingly involved not only in the reception but also the production of content. How big do you think is the willingness to do so? Will this last, or will people go back to consuming media in a more
traditional way?

As I noted in the interview, we can learn a lot from looking at the behavior of early adopters, and extrapolating from that to behavior in the mainstream, as well as learning lessons from those early adopters. In this case, we can learn a lot from open source developers. Most users of Linux or MySQL simply consume. Some send in bug reports (or increasingly, the software does it for them, in both open source and proprietary software). A smaller number send in bug fixes. A still smaller number approve those fixes. And a smaller number still do major original work or architect the framework to which others contribute. Why should media be any different?

Where "we media" is different is actually not in the creation of content -- that's always been widely distributed -- it's in the ability of content created at the edge to be "curated" by the crowd (as in digg) or even by the machine (as in Google) that recognizes the attention flow of users who've discovered that content.

But the mathematics of attention remain the same. No matter how many people produce media, only a certain amount will be consumed, and it must be found to be consumed. So the real revolution isn't just in new means of production, it's in new means of discovery and curation -- and as Google has shown, that's where most of the money will be made.

2. Does the internet provide media-homes like traditional media? Places that, like a home, provide a feeling of security, trust and orientation?

Of course. I remember a conversation with a tearful friend who was having family troubles. She said, "Second Life is a lot nicer than my first life right now." From the early days of usenet and MUDs, or pioneering bulletin boards like the Well, there have long been places that feel more like home than even the physical world, and certainly more so than traditional media, which are not interactive and don't include other people.

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taly weiss   [01.10.07 04:05 AM]

I wanted to comment on "the participation" norm of web 2.0: It seems web 2.0 is a rare example of a successful public good. But, when we test the contribution ratio (views per voters or per rankers, viewers per comments; viewers per members) a poor picture arouse.
Imagine what our web will look like if we will be able to enhance contribution behavior…we will definitely have a better and richer “good” to enjoy from.
As a social psychologist with a relevant academic background (research on public good and contribution under uncertainty I've tried to gather some solutions to the problem of "free riding". Among them are: Setting norms of contribution and encourage public spirits or “Web 2.0 patriotism”, bringing the "free riding problem" to public awareness, encouraging group communication. I dedicate my blog to this issue of contribution and I will most appreciate your remarks and insights to the problems I raise.

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