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Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Web 2.0 Goes Mainstream

I'm giving my Web 2.0 stump speech at the Omniture Summit in Salt Lake City today; a few weeks ago, I did the same at the Fast Search and Transfer Fastforward user conference. In each case, the organizers reported a huge surge in attendance, from three or four hundred last year to well over a thousand this year.

Now Omniture (a web tracking company) and Fast (an enterprise search company) are clearly part of the tech industry, but their customers, the people who are thronging this event, are clearly not. One only needs to look around to see the different demographic: 50/50 male/female ratio; 95% business attire -- a sea of suits; no wi-fi, my laptop maybe the only one in the room. And the sponsors and attendee companies are from far outside tech: consumer goods companies, auto makers, newspapers, food, home decor...

In short, the renaissance of interest in the web that we call Web 2.0 has reached the mainstream. As Gail Ennis, the SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Omniture told me, "these are mid-level marketers trying to figure out what they can learn that will make them a hero in their organization."

Of course, I don't have any simple answers. Web 2.0 is about harnessing network effects to build applications and platforms that get better the more people use them. So many companies think that means figuring out how to get users to work for them, but it's actually the other way around: figuring out how to make your products work better for your users, giving them more control over the direction of your product and your organization, and harnessing technology to ride that wave without wiping out.

Consider Google, the pre-eminent Web 2.0 company. Their breakthrough innovations in search -- the refusal to run banner and popup ads and instead the insistence on relevance in marketing, the relentless focus on performance and search quality -- were about providing value to their users, not harvesting it from them. And where they do harness user activity, as with PageRank or analyzing search patterns to understand user intention -- they do so without ever asking their users for anything.

Doing that does require amazing infrastructure for real time monitoring and intelligence, such that Google automatically responds to constantly new information, as if it were a living thing (even exhibiting signs of sickness and immune response). But putting all of Google's tools into place won't make you a Web 2.0 company. Having the "Web 2.0 attitude" will.

In my talk, I point to and our own Make magazine as examples of two very old-school businesses -- selling t-shirts and a print magazine respectively -- that act as, and succeed as, Web 2.0 companies. How? They put their users front and center.

Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make, reminds the staff constantly that it isn't about the technology; it's about the people and what they do with it.

That's true of every successful web 2.0 business: it puts its customer first.

Correction: Gail Ennnis, whom I quoted above, wrote in: "The quote that you attributed to me ... isn't an accurate representation of our customers or the audience of the summit. The customers attending the conference are marketers, but their positions range from CEO's and VP's to managers and analysts -certainly not all mid-level. They are the people who have made and are continuing drive successful web analytics and online marketing initiatives in their companies - many who lead their industries. It struck me that the quote did not really capture their profile." Apologies, Gail.

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Comments: 14

Evan Wired   [03.14.07 04:05 PM]

The reason you're not seeing any tech culture there is because you're at an online *marketing* conference. Online marketers work in a high-tech medium, but that doesn't mean they are high-tech workers. I know from daily first-hand experience that most online marketers haven't the first clue about Web 2.0. They barely have a handle on Web 1.0. This is an industry whose chief channel of information is the "pixel," squarely stuck in 1997.

Anyone there looking to be a "hero" probably isn't pursuing as cool a goal as it may sound, as they are likely driven by shallow concerns, rather than any kind of deep investment by these folks in the Web 2.0 ethos (whatever that is) or an appreciation of the technology, or the desire to solve an actual human problem. You're swimming among the Stef Murkys, my friend. Count your fingers after you shake hands.

Tim O'Reilly   [03.14.07 05:15 PM]

Actually, Evan, I found a lot of interesting people at the conference, engaged with the issues at a much deeper level than you seem to expect, and very receptive to my message.

They have already made big steps. At an exec roundtable I chaired later in the day, after my keynote, I heard two things:

1) There is still organizational and IT department resistance to Web 2.0 ideas but...

2) Companies are taking the plunge.

It may seem antediluvian to hear things like "We've finally allowed negative reviews to appear on our site" but it's actually terrific to hear this from mainstream companies -- they have in fact made the jump.

And I heard a lot of good thinking about how these companies could integrate Web 2.0 ideas into their real, working, revenue-generating businesses.

I can't list specifics without getting permission from the people in the meeting, but I was impressed with how far the attendees have already come in their thinking. To be frank, many of them are more realistic and insightful than many people I see in the valley with me-too consumer Web 2.0 plays!

Overall, the Omniture community seems to be a good one, with a lot of people instrumenting their applications and thinking hard about how that instrumentation can make the applications better not just for their bottom line but for their customer's user experience.

Andy Wong   [03.14.07 10:15 PM]

"That's true of every successful web 2.0 business: it puts its customer first." By Tim.

This could extend to what we heard of very often: successful business puts its customer first.

Web 2.0 is more people friendly, of course, then helping these on-line marketers more customer friendly.

Essentially it does not matter what technologies, it is about "Web 2.0 attitude".

Just copy/paste my comment to Tim's compact definition on Web 2.0 here.

I agree that Web 2.0 is more about people. People Web is a distinguish term against Data Web. There are quite a lot technical definition of Web 2.0 around, however, I think Tim just tried to give more easy and friendly terms to describe the new trends of using Web (1.0). Web 2.0 is more about how to use, to make it more people friendly, more people abstraction. Those technical definitions and components built on top of Web 1.0 are for these trends.

Web 2.0 can be considered as a fashionable label. And it is not necessary to narrow the techniques to Web protocols only. SMTP, Email and IM etc. can all play part of it. The whole purpose is to make Network/Web/Internet/WhateverNet be more people friendly. Web 2.0 is a shinning label we would like to wear and show.

With "Web2.0 attitude", we will be have more natural drives to melt the internet technologies into other businesses. Best of all, as consumers, we won't be feeling Web 2.0 technologies at all, and we will just feel the benefits.

chiki tomo   [03.15.07 02:22 AM]

i'm really impressed by the post.its simple and essential.i feel most of company(not
internet company) in japan are trying to USE "Web2.0","SNS" etc as a
convenient keywords or tools for their marketing promotion without
changing their traditional marketing mind, sell-oriented mind. i feel
that kind of effort would be failed. but always difficult changing peoples
mental model. young internet company would be easy to re-organize mind
and structure to put customer first, but might be not especially for
traditional non-internet company. the best way for them might be going
out to "greenfield" keeping your message in mind. anyway, this comment
itself might show that web2.0 still not in mainstream in japan ;)

srikant   [03.15.07 05:50 AM]

young internet company would be easy to re-organize mind
and structure to put customer first, but might be not especially for
traditional non-internet company.

Nina Simon   [03.15.07 07:53 AM]

I've held back from commenting about Make for awhile here. I think their mission is fabulous and their community work admirable. However, I had a strong reaction to your statement that Make magazine is putting its users front and center. I stopped subscribing to Make because the magazine, despite espousing the concept that "making is for everyone," is male-oriented to an extent that I no longer felt it was "for me." When I spoke with Dale about it, he told me that 90% of Make's readers are men, and would I like to check out Craft? If it's "about the people and what they do with it," my perception is that the magazine's definition of "people" is somewhat limited.

That said, I continue to use their blog and web resources and feel positively about them. But the magazine does not feel like an open, community-based 2.0-ish experience to me.

Tim O'Reilly   [03.15.07 08:40 AM]

Nina -- I hear you. But as with the related controversy in conference speakers, I have to respectfully disagree. You can lead your audience a certain distance, but you can't lead them too far, or they abandon you. And Dale is right: the demographic of Make, as measured by surveys, *is* 90% male. Serving your audience means serving the audience you have (and some amount of aspirational audience, but not too much).

Dale has pushed the envelope of Make: pretty far. For example, I thought the fact that the Swap-o-Rama-Rama had equal billing at Maker Faire last year with the hard core hardware geeks was great.

But after experimenting with more female-oriented content in Make magazine, it seemed to us that a separate, companion magazine would reach the targeted audience better. And so far, the numbers are showing us we're right.

Part of this whole discussion is about how measurement is changing how you build a site or service for an audience. Google has been so successful because they figured out how to create relevance, which is a measurement feedback loop.

Make looks for people pushing the envelope with technology. Unfortunately, most of those people happen to be male. But we've celebrated lots of women in the pages of Make, and we want more. So find us great women-oriented content, and help make the magazine what you want it to be.

Does the fact that Digg or includes a lot of top stories about Linux that don't matter to mainstream Americans make them not Web 2.0 sites? As it becomes more mainstream, a lot of people must be wondering "why are these people so interested in this wierd stuff?" Does make suits? Serving an audience, and being part of that community, shapes a product. If you wish that audience to be different, or shaped in a different direction, help make it so.

And btw, Craft is a really cool magazine too.

Sibley Verbeck   [03.15.07 11:18 AM]

Tim, so, you're saying that if you create a magazine that is all articles about men with pictures of all men and then mostly men subscribe to it and women who are interested in the subject stop subscribing, that proves that you're correctly addressing your audience?

I doubt the magazine would be any less interesting to male inventors if it made more of an effort to include female inventors.

Yes, Craft is very cool, but there are men who want to be crafty and women who want to be engineers and you're help perpetuating the almost all male engineering paradigm. Unlike Nina I avoid Make and O'Reilly on-line altogether because I think you're part of the problem with the closed culture, not part of the solution (until I heard about this post, of course and wanted to add a comment :-)

michael schrage   [03.15.07 12:08 PM]

...i'll avoid the budding 'gender war' here and pitch in with a broader comment: i was @ the fast conference and strongly disagree with tim's characterization of it...i observed a real mix - oil&water perhaps - of business folks, tekkies and operations people who want to bring the virtues of search within their enterprise...

...and this inspires me to have the gall to 'correct' something tim writes - these web 2.0 companies succeed not because they put their 'customers' first but because THEY PUT THEIR USERS FIRST!!!

...users are not (necessarily) customers andy more than customers are (necessarily) is about managing this vulnerable but vibrant intersection between customers and users...

for the record: i thought tim's FAST talking was superb

Tim O'Reilly   [03.15.07 12:26 PM]

michael -- you're right. The FAST conference was much more of a mix than the Omniture conference.

And you're also right to make the distinction between users and customers. They aren't always the same.

You're also right to avoid the gender war. Discretion is the better part of valor. But I never had much discretion...

Anonymous   [03.15.07 02:29 PM]

OK, being less combative/snarky in the hopes of inciting engagement, I'd like to simply represent that

a) it seems like you're suggesting a self fulfilling prophesy

b) I really don't think that the 90% of your readership that is male would be turned off by having more Makers of equal quality who are female. If that's not what you're concluding when you explain that you don't have more women in your content because your audience is male, than I'd love to get an explanation;

c) I suggest that bringing the Make revolution to everyone will include women (and that is separate from also bringing Craft content to everyone);

d) I think the Wii is an interesting example of the successful output of a company deciding that it shouldn't just design products for their current user base, but look for products that are quite exciting to their current user base + very interesting to others / don't turn others off. I recognize that I'm not a magazine editor, but I suggest that that might be particulary easy to do in this case.

Good luck.

Tim O'Reilly   [03.15.07 04:00 PM]

No, Sibley, I'm not saying that.

And I don't think you've characterized the magazine at all accurately. We do a maker profile in each issue. Three of the eight Maker profiles so far have been of women (Natalie Jeremjienko in issue 2, Julie Meitz in issue 4, and Quinn Norton in issue 6.) Nor are the projects exclusively male. Backyard biology? Halloween haunted houses? Cigar box guitar? Rebooting art? Tandem dog cart? Small batch coffee roaster? Looking inside toys?

I think it is you who is showing your bias in identifying these as male-only projects.

And going the other way, Craft mixes it up with tech coming from the other side: women scientists crocheting geometrical spaces, and knitting anatomically correct brain art are among the maker profiles...

BTW, I understand from Dale that you and Nina are a couple (lest this sound like an pile-on by independent customers.) What's more, I understand that he's asked Nina to submit ideas for women makers, and women authors for make, as well as to contribute herself, without any result.

If you want to shape the direction of a community, you need to participate, and not just criticize.

Mark Frauenfelder   [03.15.07 04:29 PM]

Nina, I don't understand what you expect us to do. Should we look at the story pitches coming in and favor the ones that are by or about women?

I meet a lot of women makers when I go to events. Many of them have pitched articles to me, and I've assigned lots of stories by and about women makers. Interestingly, the woman who are actually *making* things are the least likely to complain about gender bias in Make.

Here's one thing we don't do, and we won't do: concern ourselves with gender ratios in the magazine. As I've told you before, I don't care a whit about the gender of an author or profile subject -- if it's cool we'll run it. That's the only thing we really care about -- projects that amaze us.

My challenge to you is to do something amazing.

limor fried   [03.15.07 04:55 PM]

I rarely comment on Radar but theres nothing more bizarre than 2 guys debating tech gender balance ;)
(My name isn't obviously female, but in case it makes a difference I will mention it.)

Also, to get credentials out of the way: I'm a MIT graduate w/an Masters of Eng. in EE/CS. I've written for Make, I was profiled in the Maker's book, I am on the tech. advisory board for the magazine and designed/provide a sizable majority of the electronic kits sold in the web store.

I think there's this prevailing fantasy that theres this even 50% split of women out there who engineer and fabricate and are interested in that sort of thing. The fact is, there is not. If I had to really guess, I'd say the percentage of women in the "engineering community" is maybe 10%

OK so you're saying "so what? the representation should be balanced!" Sure, that's easy to say but harder in practice. There's just so many times one can trot out the same women over and over again in order to equalize numbers. I've had to say 'no' to Make once or twice because overexposure is just as bad as underexposure. I wanted to have Jeri Ellsworth interviewed in the magazine and she didn't respond to email.

Because many of the articles in Make are written by the same people who read it, you're going to get a pretty similar distribution between contributors and consumers. Again, around 10%

Is there a Problem? Yes (if by problem you mean that there are underrepresented segments of the population in engineering)

However, if you think the problem is caused by Make's seemingly mis-balanced roll and could by cured by having more women write articles on 555 timer circuits, you are misrepresenting what is really going on.

Anyways, have you even looked at magazines like Nuts&Volts and Circuit Cellar? I can assure you the number of women writing and written about in those popular hobbyist magazines is pretty much zero.

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