What is and isn’t Web 2.0?

24Oct06

There was a bit of buzz over the weekend regarding what is and isn’t Web 2.0, inspired by Lessig’s post that suggested YouTube didn’t really meet the requirements.  To a certain extent, this is a silly discussion.  But I agree wholeheartedly with Joi Ito’s comments on the topic, particularly:

“One of the central themes of Web 2.0 is the ability for users to
control their own data and the ability for people to share and remix.
In this context, many, if not most good Web 2.0 services allow users to
download, link and reuse all if not a substantial part of the content
they work on.”

My thoughts on the future of social networks from last Friday dovetail with this philosophy.  However, I don’t think that YouTube and other web services that do not allow downloading are disqualified from upstanding Web 2.0 citizen status.  In the case of YouTube, most folks have little need to do much else with the content.  A viewer’s “marginal utility” from repeat viewings (assuming it’s not one’s own content) diminishes quickly, and a user can still readily share the video on his webpage, enabling discovery by others.

For copyrighted material that does retain value for the consumer over time – e.g. music – the ability to freely download content is great from the consumer’s side but would deprive the producer of revenue.  For example, in the case of my old employer, Live365, DJs could readily share music via streaming, but listeners could only buy the music through links to Amazon or iTunes.  Having said that, I’d argue that iTunes is *not* Web 2.0 because its downloads are DRM’d at a fixed price point.

In short, I think a laser focus on the end user is the ultimate arbiter on the Web 2.0 thing.  YouTube visitors aren’t any the worse for wear by only being able to stream (rather than download) videos, in most cases.  And I don’t believe that having to pay for content violates this spirit either, as long as payment is transacted at a fair price and there are no restrictions on subsequent ownership of that content.

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