Who Are The Web 2.5 Winners?

Innovation thrives, but will there be too few winners in the coming wiki-blog-centric world?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Web 2.0 hasn't peaked. In fact, it's far from peaked, according to Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media, a co-producer of the Web 2.0 Expo going on here this week.

"Are we really done yet?" O'Reilly asked the audience rhetorically. "We have a long way to go."

O'Reilly said even though companies are dabbling with Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis, they haven't really penetrated enterprises in a "deep" way. He pointed to sites Dell's Ideastorm as a good first step. The Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) community feedback site lets consumers suggest and vote on ideas the computer company should pursue.

But O'Reilly said there's a lot more to come in terms of the Internet "harnessing intelligence" and becoming a tool for "human augmentation". The cheerleading theme continued as he called the evolution and adoption of Web technologies "a turning point akin to literacy."

He said companies like Amazon were ahead of the curve in offering online infrastructure services because an increasing numbers of people are coming to rely on the Internet for computing and storage. "The Internet is becoming a universal operating system," said O'Reilly. "The computer is every computer."

O'Reilly urged developers to pursue "big, hairy, audacious goals" and offered one cautionary note in his otherwise upbeat assessment of the Web industry. As some of the early winners like Facebook amass huge valuations, he said they could crowd out innovative competitors. "It's a trend that will lead us to a world we thought we were getting out of with Microsoft [becoming less important with the ascent of the Web]," he said. "We might end up with too few players and less innovation, and freedom; we have to watch out for that."

Clay Shirky, author of 'Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization', followed with an amusing analysis of the Web's potential. He said in the last century consumers had to learn to manage something new – free time. And the most popular option, in his opinion, was the TV sitcom. Similarly, in the 19th century, drinking gin was a popular past time. But now, with advent of the Web, at least some segments of the population are waking up from their "collective bender" to contribute creatively to efforts like Wikipedia.

A smaller scale example he cited was a person in Brazil who created a wiki map to track local incidents of crime – pushing a virtual pushpin in a location each time someone reported a crime. Shirky said the wiki's creator said it was simpler to create the map from scratch and a resource for the community, than try and get the information from the local authorities. "It illustrates that someone alone with really cheap tools has enough collective good will to create a resource you couldn't imagine happening five years ago," he said.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.






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