I’ve seen a lot of comments on “what is next for Web 2.0” in the past few months, but most of those jump ahead to the “Web 3.0” stage of Cyberdyne’s Skynet artificial intelligence stage. I wanted to bring the discussion back to a less scary (well, at least not “end of the world” scary) topic of the next stage in Web 2.0, which I’ll call, “Web 2.1 – The Unsolicited Interloper.”
Web 2.0’s Controlled Discussion
The 2.0 stage moved us from a one-way online discussion into a method of two-way or multi-way discussion. Blogs allow us to comment; newspapers allow people to submit comments on just about any story they publish; and social media tools allow us to chat and connect with peers in a real-time environment. One of the things with the 2.0 world is that whoever writes, or manages the content usually has some type of control over the discussion that follows within the four walls of that content-even if the only recourse is to delete the discussion, or moderate the comments before allowing others to see them. The key to 2.0 is that you can have four walls around your content. However, the 2.1 stage could tear down those walls and allow interlopers in, and you’ll have very little control over what they have to say.
Two Web 2.1 tools – Google’s Sidewiki and DotSpots’ “Distributed Objects of Thought”
Two of the leading contenders to usher in my version of Web 2.1 are Google Sidewiki (see video demo) and DotSpots (see video demo). Both of these are browser extensions that allow anyone to place unmoderated comments on any webpage and allows anyone with the same browser extensions to view those comments and add their own comments as well. Sidewiki does as its name suggests and puts comments into a sidebar, while DotSpot places the comment ‘dot’ right in the text of the blog. Now, neither of these actually does anything to the blog post itself… it is simply a feature of the browser extension that allows the modification on the side (sidewiki), or within the text of the browser page (DotSpot). If you haven’t added the extension to your browser, then you wouldn’t see the comments at all.
Free-flowing commentary versus Free-Flowing SPAM
The idea behind the Web 2.1 tools is noble. Using the wisdom of crowds, information can become free-flowing, and more informative by allowing those reading it to also add information. The DotSpot video is a prime example of what the developers of the product wish to do. Now an article can have comments pointing to additional information and the ‘crowd’ can begin interacting with each other and add additional content (maps, videos, etc.) making (or rather morphing) the original information into something dynamic. No longer is the ‘crowd’ limited by the restraints of the website’s comments section. It is this freedom that is worrisome for most of us that develop original content on the web.
In the Web 2.0 world, I can delete comments that appear on my blog. In this new 2.1 world, I cannot. Instead, according to what I’ve read in the FAQ’s for the two resources, I’d have to request that content be removed because it is SPAM or abusive in some manner. This is the part that I think most of us would find most troubling. It is one thing for another blogger to rip my posts to shreds on his or her own blog, but to essentially add any comments you want and have it show up through the extensions on my blog seems to be something that I’d rather not have to deal with. Yes, I know that it isn’t “really” on my blog… it is on Google’s Sidewiki or DotSpots databases (somewhere in the cloud), but if you have these extensions installed on your browser, it can sure look like it is.
The Benefit of the Unregulated Crowd
Maybe the inconvenience of the occasional spammer is outweighed by Web 2.1’s dynamic platform. We’ve grown accustomed to being the moderators of the conversations over our writings. Losing some of that control is not a comfortable thought for me. But, maybe it is not a bad thing to loosen some of that control. Most things I’ve read on the topic of crowds say that the ‘unregulated crowd’ creates a better result over one that is. Perhaps I should just take the good with the bad when it comes to the unsolicited interlopers that the Web 2.1 world brings.