O’Reilly Commencement and 2.0 Dangers

Tim O’Reilly gave a commencement speach at the UC Berkeley School of Information, covering mostly Web 2.0 and what it’s bringing us towards. His view of 2.0 is still the most inline with what I think;

A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else… It’s for this reason that I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.

And “harnessing” is of course done through read/write, being able to participate easily, not only accessing information but also adding to it. Too often, especially lately, all the talk of 2.0 centers on technology tricks like Ajax and not enough on what those things are used to build. Web 2.0 is the new way we participate in the network and the resulting value, not the gadgets we use to get VC money.

What’s also interesting is that he then presents some of the dangers that folks like Karl have been warning us about. (Although I hate Karl’s use of the term slavery in that context, I think it’s insulting to actual slaves and sweat shop workers to even consider that term. Even taking into account his “trolling” tendencies in his choice of words.)

First, privacy. Collective intelligence requires the storage of enormous amounts of data. And while this data can be used to deliver innovative applications, it can also be used to invade our privacy. The recent news disclosures about phone records being turned over to the NSA is one example. Yahoo’s recent disclosure of the identity of a Chinese dissident to Chinese authorities is another.

Second, concentration of power. While it’s easy to see the user empowerment and democratization implicit in web 2.0, it’s also easy to overlook the enormous power that is being accrued by those who’ve successfully become the repository for our collective intelligence. Who owns that data? Is it ours, or does it belong to the vendor?

I still haven’t seen any good solutions to those issues, Karl opted out of Flickr, anyone offering other solutions? Open Source installation/ services on top of Open Source software to build a co-op version of Flickr? Of del.icio.us?

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