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Web 2.0 – It’s not about the technology

Last night I attended the BayCHI panel, “Are You Ready for Web 2.0?” Panelists were Stewart from Flickr, Dave from Technorati, Paul from HousingMaps, and Tom from the nether regions of the info cloud.

Each panelist had about 10 minutes for an initial statement, and they went pretty much according to plan. Stewart talked about Flickr (and tags, and clusters, and interestingness, and Ajax, and the read-write web), Dave talked about the blogosphere, Paul talked about his peerless mashup, and Tom discussed the come-to-me Web.

Descent into tech talk

That was all well and good. Where it broke down was in the Q&A. Even though this is a seminar nominally of interaction and interface designers, the topic most on everyone’s mind was APIs. And the panelists were only too happy to oblige, because they think about APIs a lot, too. But APIs, while important, are hardly the interesting part of the discussion. And I found it frustrating how quickly the conversation sank into the depths of tools and technology.

The answer to the question, “Are you ready for Web 2.0?” cannot be, “Yes! I have APIs! I gave tags! I use Ajax!” Readiness requires a shift in mindset, not technological capabilities (as many panelists pointed out, the technologies at play have been available for 5 to 6 years by this point).

Come on everybody, get open

Web 2.0 is primarily interesting from a philosophical standpoint. It’s about relinquishing control, it’s about openness, it’s about trust and authenticity. APIs, Tags, Ajax, mashups, and all that are symptoms, outputs, results of this philosophical bent.

I think about this, because I wonder how we spread the philosophical appreciation underlying Web 2.0. Particularly because it runs contrary to business as usual. How do we get old-line organizations to appreciate the value of this philosophy? Paul made a point about how the keepers of the MLS real estate listings system currently derive their value from maintaining the information as closed and proprietary. And that it has made them rich. And that openness would be a threat. I would argue that they could probably get even richer if they opened that data up… not only for all the unforeseen ways that others would be able to add value, but also because Craigslist is becoming an ad hoc, grassroots service that will route around MLS if it maintains its gates.