A lot was said in Davos about Web 2.0 as a concept that was important for the development of the world. The level of buzz around connected devices, virtual worlds and community sites was tremendous in Davos as it seems to be subsiding in the valley. I was even interviewed by the BBC about avatars and the virtual world of Second Life, even though I'm not an expert on either. People who attracted a lot of attention at the conference were Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube, Mitch Kapor, Chairman of Linden, the maker of Second Life, and Caterina Fake, the founder of Flickr. CNN even hosted a somewhat disorganized audience session on Web 2.0 that had Mitch, Caterina, Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of Orange, Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters and Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook who looks like he just left university, because he has. Too bad that CNN, like many other people, doesn’t seem to understand what Web 2.0 is.
On the Saturday, I went to the Geeks' Dinner, an alternative to the Gala Soiree developed by techies and journalists who were not encouraged to go to the Soiree since they might not fit in. The dinner was held at the Pot au Feu, which is an informal, traditional Swiss restaurant and a real contrast to the Grand Soiree. Attending the dinner is everyone you can probably think of involved in Web 2.0. There were also journalists, Nobel prize winners, Olympic athletes, anyone left who matters from enterprise software like Shai Agassi, Paul Sagan and Peter Gabriel. Larry and Sergey from Google were there and apparently they brought some of the people there in the Google jet, which is a converted 757 that has been fitted out something like Air Force One. Paul Saffo from the Institute for the Future was the Master of Ceremonies and asked everyone to introduce themselves in seven words or less. (Let me tell you, that was a truly terrifying prospect in such company.) It was the Web 2.0 people who probably had the easiest time describing themselves like Mark Zuckerberg and Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia.
At this dinner, I sat next to John Markoff, technology writer for the New York Times, and Caterina Fake. John was explaining that he originally wanted to be an astronomer, but that he didn’t enjoy the math. He was also talking about an idea that he had for a portal that was very visual for the everyday pieces of information that people need. We talked a bit about personality types and how they respond to different types of information. Caterina mentioned that she was very good at math, but really preferred right brained activities. It finally clicked! John and Caterina were right brained and very much aligned with what was happening in Web 2.0. Everything that has been described about Web 2.0 is more or less a description of right brained activities whereas the old web is about left brain activities, built by people with left brained tendencies.
So far, Web 2.0 has been defined from a session that Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle (who was at Davos and may have been at this dinner) back in 2004. In this session, they collected a set of “memes” that described a new wave of web properties that were emerging on the internet. Rather than trying to synthesize the collection, that named it Web 2.0. Since then, there has been a debate about whether this is really something new or just evolutionary. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt like something new.
This meme map is not very helpful in distilling the essence of what Web 2.0 really is. Now consider the definition of Right Brain/Left Brain or Lateralization of Brain Function from Wikipedia. The left brain functions include:
• Language and grammar
• Arithmetic and mathematics
• Present and past
• Concrete concepts
• Linear thinking
• Pattern perception
Right brain function includes:
• Intonation and emphasis
• Present and future
• Abstract concepts
• Holistic reasoning
• Spatial perception
• Facial perception
• Artistic ability
When you think about the touchstones of Web 2.0 like Google Maps, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace and Second Life, it all falls into place. When the last generation says that there is nothing new here, it is because they cannot see it. They see the technology, which has not moved on significantly, and miss the nuance and conceptual difference. There have been technological changes to be able to better express either abstract concept or spatial relationships, such as AJAX and the virtual world of Second Life, but these pale in the change in accessibility of internet services. First generation was created for the people who built the internet and second generation is for everyone else who isn’t left brain.
This was a real revelation for me. However, I don’t think that John and Caterina shared my excitement. Maybe it’s already bleeding obvious. The next day I did a Google search on “Web 2.0” and right brain and didn’t find a lot. However, for me it is profound and it is something I think that we can apply immediately to the development of Alfresco. I am going to explore the concept more and I believe that there are implications from Myers-Briggs personality types in how they interact with the Internet.
It also suggests a more appropriate name for Web 2.0 - the Right Web, as opposed to the Left Web. The Left Web as the necessary infrastructure developed to make the Web possible in the first place. The Left Web is not done, especially if you want to see the holographic web that John Chambers is talking about or the physical web that Shai Agassi is talking about. However, the Right Web is only just starting and based upon the bold and visionary statements made at Davos, I think we will see rapid development of the creative and personal side of the web in the next couple of years.
It also occurred to me that this wasn’t a nerds’ dinner anymore. The left-brain, analytical nerds were gone from this event and seem less relevant today. At this dinner were all the right-brained people defining the world that we will live in. Looking at the comparison of the two lists of characteristics above, it will probably a much more fun world as well.