Some 2.0 reality checks

The Pew Internet report  on Typology of ICT Users (thanks to John for sending me this) has some interesting findings. We do rather tend to get swept up in our little bubble around web 2.0 and modern usage of technology generally, but this paints a rather different picture. It has some great categories also: ‘omnivores’, ‘lackluster veterans’, ‘light but satisfied’, and my favourite which surely describes most of us at some stage ‘connected but hassled’.

A few of the finding that caused a mild raise of the eyebrow:

Those who have ever gone online for no particular reason, just to pass the time – 62% (28% yesterday). This seems quite low to me.

Sent or received text messages (amongst cell phone users ) – 41%. Again quite low, I wonder if this might be different in Europe?

Have ever posted comments to a forum or website – 18%.

I think what this demonstrates is that we tend to think in terms of students, or people who want to be students, where these figures will be higher. There are plenty of adults for whom the technology has little impact on their jobs and don’t really need to engage with it. Before critics jump on this and say that means we shouldn’t adopt e-learning because it will alienate this audience, I think it is also true that once someone makes the decision to study they are also signing up to engage in different experiences and using ICT is one of those. One could just as easily look at how many adults engage in formal learning, where the figures would be low for the population as a whole, but that doesn’t mean education is insignificant.

And then there was this piece, which I found via George Siemens: The Web 2.0 Bubble by Michael Hirschorn. There is a lot I agree about in the piece, and I like his phrase "Like “push,” “social media” is a functional advance pimped out as a revolution". In my book I was rather disparaging about the obsession with proclaiming every new technology as ‘disruptive’ whereas most change is actually  incremental, as the succession model suggests. And I also agree that "Social media has been around since the dawn of the Web" – in my book I said of social software "Given that the internet fosters dialogue and communication, one’s reaction to the development of social software could be ‘well of course there’s social software, that’s what the net is for.’ "

But I disagree with some of his conclusions. For instance, that the best 2.0 sites "facilitate behavior that people already engage in." I think this is rather stretching it, and missing the point. Did people really share photos the way Flickr allows before? Certainly most people didn’t. And did people really engage become journalists before blogs? And did they really create and share video clips before You Tube? The sites themselves create the impetus and motivation for people to create because they can share. Even if you argue that they were doing these things before (taking photos, creating videos), then the scale of the operation now makes it something entirely different – scale matters.

I also think it rather concentrates on content and business models, and underplays the technological significance of web 2.0.  This can again be seen as evolution (of the open source model) rather than revolution, but the remix, reuse, small component, service based approach surely now wins out over the monolithic approach.

More significantly, I think it underestimates the cultural significance. Sure, something else will come along and Facebook may go the way of Netscape, but users will always expect a degree of control, decentralisation and democratisation now. The centralised, hierarchical model that is found in so many industries (broadcast, retail, education to name but three) is dead or at least quite unwell, and if that isn’t a revolution I don’t know what is.

One Comment

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