I have been consumed in research on the topic of Web 2.0 the last few weeks. All of my research keeps bringing me back to the generation of kids born in the 80’s and 90’s. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I was born as a Gen Y (1978-1990’s) or Internet Generation (1994-2001) child. Much of what is driving Web 2.0 is the online expectations from these two generations. My two kids, ages 10 & 8, are Internet Generation kids. Here is my assessment of their generation in terms of their online expectations and abilities:
1. Technically savvy – I am probably the only member in my family who is more capable of using technology then my kids. From the web, to IPods, to cell phones, to Tivos, etc. My kids could use almost all of the features of these technologies before they knew how to read. As a matter of fact, and I am embarrassed to admit it, my daughter at age 6 had to show me how to use the “mouse” feature of my Nano when I first bought it. So much for my dual computer science degrees!
2. Technical from birth – This is slightly redundant from my first point, but I do want to point out that they resist nothing that is new. When they see something new, they embrace it. When I look at my parents’ generation, when they see something new they run from it. Do all of the clocks in your parents’ house still flash 12:00?
3. Short attention span – If it doesn’t work, if it’s too complex, or if it takes too long, they are gone.
4. Advertising is break time – They are accustomed to fast forwarding the TiVo, Adblock, and various other technologies that don’t force them to sit through or click through commercials.
5. Independent – They don’t need assistance, directions, or user manuals. They are very resourceful and learn with their eyes.
6. Low budget – Actually no budget. They don’t have cash, and they know that if they want something they have to perform some painful duty (takeout the trash, clean their room) to earn it. So they are accustomed to doing things at no or low cost.
Now take a step back and see how these characteristics apply to Web 2.0. Throw in Gen Y’s social networking demands and you have described many of the characteristics of Web 2.0 technologies. Now look at some of the statistics of internet usage by age in the US and the UK. As you can see, the younger generations are heavy users of the web.
So why do I care? I care because I think most of corporate America is missing the boat when it comes to embracing technologies like instant messaging, blogs, tagging, social networking, and AJAX to name a few. How many of you have a magazine rack full of paid subscriptions to various trade magazines at your work? Do people actually still read these things? The younger generations and those of us who are “web 2.0 aware” use RSS feeds to get the news that we want. If you depend heavily on main stream news and paid subscription services, you probably don’t really know what’s going on. These sources are controlled and influenced by big money. Blogging is free and Democratic. Here is an excerpt from Paul Graham’s article Web 2.0:
The second big element of Web 2.0 is democracy. We now have several examples to prove that amateurs can surpass professionals, when they have the right kind of system to channel their efforts. Wikipedia may be the most famous. Experts have given Wikipedia middling reviews, but they miss the critical point: it's good enough. And it's free, which means people actually read it. On the web, articles you have to pay for might as well not exist. Even if you were willing to pay to read them yourself, you can't link to them. They're not part of the conversation.
Another place democracy seems to win is in deciding what counts as news. I never look at any news site now except Reddit. I know if something major happens, or someone writes a particularly interesting article, it will show up there. Why bother checking the front page of any specific paper or magazine? Reddit's like an RSS feed for the whole web, with a filter for quality. Similar sites include Digg, a technology news site that's rapidly approaching Slashdot in popularity, and del.icio.us, the collaborative bookmarking network that set off the "tagging" movement. And whereas Wikipedia's main appeal is that it's good enough and free, these sites suggest that voters do a significantly better job than human editors.
The most dramatic example of Web 2.0 democracy is not in the selection of ideas, but their production. I've noticed for a while that the stuff I read on individual people's sites is as good as or better than the stuff I read in newspapers and magazines. And now I have independent evidence: the top links on Reddit are generally links to individual people's sites rather than to magazine articles or news stories.
My experience of writing for magazines suggests an explanation. Editors. They control the topics you can write about, and they can generally rewrite whatever you produce. The result is to damp extremes. Editing yields 95th percentile writing—95% of articles are improved by it, but 5% are dragged down. 5% of the time you get "throngs of geeks."
On the web, people can publish whatever they want. Nearly all of it falls short of the editor-damped writing in print publications. But the pool of writers is very, very large. If it's large enough, the lack of damping means the best writing online should surpass the best in print. And now that the web has evolved mechanisms for selecting good stuff, the web wins net. Selection beats damping, for the same reason market economies beat centrally planned ones.
Even the startups are different this time around. They are to the startups of the Bubble what bloggers are to the print media. During the Bubble, a startup meant a company headed by an MBA that was blowing through several million dollars of VC money to "get big fast" in the most literal sense. Now it means a smaller, younger, more technical group that just decided to make something great. They'll decide later if they want to raise VC-scale funding, and if they take it, they'll take it on their terms.
I will continue this topic in part II of my next article where I discuss how IT management, who are typically in their late 30’, 40’s, or 50’s, need to start thinking more like their kids’ generation and start embracing Web 2.0 before they become as outdated as their old bell bottom jeans.
Gypsylibrarian.blogspot.com (2007). What does Generation Y want? Retrieved on April 8, 2007 from http://gypsylibrarian.blogspot.com/2005/08/what-does-generation-y-want-article.html
 Pew Internet & American Life Project (2007). Demographics of internet users. Retrieved on April 8, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/trends/User_Demo_1.11.07.htm
Krasne, A. (2007). What is Web 2.0 anyways? Retrieved on April 8, 2007 from http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/webbuilding/page4758.cfm