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6.1 Introduction

Learning Objectives

After studying this section you should be able to do the following:

  1. Recognize the unexpected rise and impact of social media and peer production systems, and understand how these services differ from prior generation tools.
  2. List the major classifications of social media services.

Over the past few years a fundamentally different class of Internet services has attracted users, made headlines, and increasingly garnered breathtaking market valuations. Often referred to under the umbrella term “Web 2.0A term broadly referring to Internet services that foster collaboration and information sharing; characteristics that distinctly set “Web 2.0” efforts apart from the static, transaction-oriented Web sites of “Web 1.0.” The term is often applied to Web sites and Internet services that foster social media or other sorts of peer production.,” these new services are targeted at harnessing the power of the Internet to empower users to collaborate, create resources, and share information in a distinctly different way from the static Web sites and transaction-focused storefronts that characterized so many failures in the dot-com bubble. Blogs, wikis, social networks, photo and video sharing sites, and tagging systems all fall under the Web 2.0 moniker, as do a host of supporting technologies and related efforts.

The term Web 2.0 is a tricky one because like so many popular technology terms there’s not a precise definition. Coined by publisher and pundit Tim O’Reilly in 2003, techies often joust over the breadth of the Web 2.0 umbrella and over whether Web 2.0 is something new or simply an extension of technologies that have existed since the creation of the Internet. These arguments aren’t really all that important. What is significant is how quickly the Web 2.0 revolution came about, how unexpected it was, and how deeply impactful these efforts have become. Some of the sites and services that have evolved and their Web 1.0 origins are listed in Table 6.1 "Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0".Adapted from T. O’Reilly, “What Is Web 2.0?” O’Reilly, September 30, 2005.

Table 6.1 Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0

Web 1.0 Web 2.0
DoubleClick Google AdSense
Ofoto Flickr
Akamai BitTorrent Napster
Britannica Online Wikipedia
personal Web sites blogging
evite and E.V.D.B.
domain name speculation search engine optimization
page views cost per click
screen scraping Web services
publishing participation
content management systems wikis
directories (taxonomy) tagging (“folksonomy”)
stickiness syndication
instant messaging Twitter LinkedIn

To underscore the speed with which Web 2.0 arrived on the scene, and the impact of leading Web 2.0 services, consider the following efforts:

  • According to a spring 2008 report by Morgan Stanley, Web 2.0 services ranked as seven of the world’s top ten most heavily trafficked Internet sites (YouTube,, MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Wikipedia, and Orkut); only one of these sites (MySpace) was on the list in 2005.Morgan Stanley, Internet Trends Report, March 2008.
  • With only seven full-time employees and an operating budget of less than one million dollars, Wikipedia has become the Internet’s fifth most visited site on the Internet.G. Kane and R. Fichman, “The Shoemaker’s Children: Using Wikis for Information Systems Teaching, Research, and Publication,” MIS Quarterly, March 2009. The site boasts well over fourteen million articles in over two hundred sixty different languages, all of them contributed, edited, and fact-checked by volunteers.
  • Just two years after it was founded, MySpace was bought for $580 million by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (the media giant that owns the Wall Street Journal and the Fox networks, among other properties). By the end of 2007, the site accounted for some 12 percent of Internet minutes and has repeatedly ranked as the most-visited Web site in the United States.D. Chmielewski and J. Guynn, “MySpace Ready to Prove Itself in Faceoff,” Chicago Tribune, June 8, 2008.
  • At rival Facebook, users in the highly sought after college demographic spend over thirty minutes a day on the site. A fall 2007 investment from Microsoft pegged the firm’s overall value at fifteen billion dollars, a number that would make it the fifth most valuable Internet firm, despite annual revenues at the time of only one hundred fifty million dollars.M. Arrington, “Perspective: Facebook Is Now Fifth Most Valuable U.S. Internet Company,” TechCrunch, October 25, 2007.
  • Just twenty months after its founding, YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion. While Google struggles to figure out how to make profitable what is currently a money-losing resource hog (over twenty hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute)E. Nakashima, “YouTube Ordered to Release User Data,” Washington Post, July 4, 2008. the site has emerged as the Web’s leading destination for video, hosting everything from apologies from JetBlue’s CEO for service gaffes to questions submitted as part of the 2008 U.S. presidential debates. Fifty percent of YouTube’s roughly three hundred million users visit the site at least once a week.Morgan Stanley, Internet Trends Report, March 2008.

Table 6.2 Major Web 2.0 Tools

Description Features Technology Providers Use Case Examples
Blogs Short for “Web log”—an online diary that keeps a running chronology of entries. Readers can comment on posts. Can connect to other blogs through blog rolls or trackbacks. Key uses: Share ideas, obtain feedback, mobilize a community.
  • Ease of use
  • Reverse chronology
  • Comment threads
  • Persistence
  • Searchability
  • Tags
  • Trackbacks
  • Blogger (Google)
  • WordPress
  • SixApart (TypePad and Movable Type)
Corporate Users:
  • News outlets
  • Sun
  • Microsoft
  • G.M.
  • Kaiser Permanente
Wikis A Web site that anyone can edit directly from within the browser. Key uses: Collaborate on common tasks or to create a common knowledge base.
  • All changes are attributed
  • A complete revision history is maintained
  • Automatic notification of updates
  • Searchability
  • Tags
  • Monitoring
  • SocialText
  • PBWorks
  • Google Sites
  • WetPaint
  • Microsoft SharePoint
  • Apple OS X Server
Corporate Users:
  • Intuit
  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Pixar
Electronic Social Network Online community that allows users to establish a personal profile, link to other profiles (i.e., friends), and browse the connections of other, and communicate with members via messaging, posts, et cetera. Key Uses:
  • Discover and reinforce affiliations.
  • Identify experts.
  • Message individuals or groups.
  • Share media.
  • Detailed personal profiles using multimedia
  • Affiliations with groups
  • Affiliations with individuals
  • Messaging and public discussions
  • Media sharing
  • “Feeds” of recent activity among members
  • MySpace
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • SelectMinds
  • LiveWorld
  • IBM/Lotus Connections
Corporate Users:
  • Deloitte Consulting
  • Goldman-Sachs
  • Reuters
  • IBM
  • Starbucks
  • Dell
Microblogging Short, asynchronous messaging system. Users send messages to “followers.” Key Uses: distributing time, sensitive information, sharing opinions, virally spreading ideas, running contests and promotions, soliciting feedback, providing customer support, tracking commentary on firms/products/issues, organizing protests.
  • 140 character messages sent and received from mobile device.
  • ability to respond publicly or privately
  • can specify tags to classify discussion topics for easy searching and building comment threads
  • follower lists
  • Twitter (overwhelming leader)
  • SocialText Signals (organizational use)
  • Yammer
Corporate Users:
  • Dell
  • Starbucks
  • Intuit
  • Small businesses

Millions of users, billions of dollars, huge social impact, and these efforts weren’t even on the radar of most business professionals when today’s graduating college seniors first enrolled as freshmen. The trend demonstrates that even some of the world’s preeminent thought leaders and business publications can be sideswiped by the speed of the Internet.

Consider that when management guru Michael Porter wrote a piece titled, “Strategy and the Internet” at the end of the dot-com bubble, he lamented the high cost of building brand online, questioned the power of network effects, and cast a skeptical eye on ad-supported revenue models. Well, it turns out Web 2.0 efforts challenged all of these assumptions. Among the efforts above, all built brand on the cheap with little conventional advertising, and each owes their hypergrowth and high valuation to their ability to harness the network effect. In June, 2008, BusinessWeek also confessed to having an eye off the ball. In a cover story on social media, the magazine offered a mea culpa, confessing that while blogging was on their radar, editors were blind to the bigger trends afoot online, and underestimated the rise and influence of social networks, wikis, and other efforts.Stephen Baker and Heather Green, “Beyond Blogs: What Every Business Needs to Know,” BusinessWeek, June 2, 2008.

While the Web 2.0 moniker is a murky one, we’ll add some precision to our discussion of these efforts by focusing on peer productionWhen users collaboratively work to create content and provide services online. Includes social media sites, as well as peer-produced services, such as Skype and BitTorrent, where the participation of users provide the infrastructure and computational resources that enable the service., perhaps Web 2.0’s most powerful feature, where users work, often collaboratively, to create content and provide services online. Web-based efforts that foster peer production are often referred to as social mediaContent that is created, shared, and commented on by a broader community of users. Services that support the production and sharing of social media include blogs, wikis, video sites like YouTube, and most social networks. or user-generated content sites. These sites include blogs; wikis; social networks like Facebook and MySpace; communal bookmarking and tagging sites like; media sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr; and a host of supporting technologies. And it’s not just about media. Peer-produced services like Skype and BitTorrent leverage users’ computers instead of a central IT resource to forward phone calls and video. This ability saves their sponsors the substantial cost of servers, storage, and bandwidth. Techniques such as crowdsourcing, where initially undefined groups of users band together to solve problems, create code, and develop services, are also a type of peer production. These efforts will be expanded on below, along with several examples of their use and impact.

Key Takeaways

  • A new generation of Internet applications is enabling consumers to participate in creating content and services online. Examples include Web 2.0 efforts such as social networks, blogs, and wikis, as well as efforts such as Skype and BitTorret, which leverage the collective hardware of their user communities to provide a service.
  • These efforts have grown rapidly, most with remarkably little investment in promotion. Nearly all of these new efforts leverage network effects to add value and establish their dominance and viral marketing to build awareness and attract users.
  • Experts often argue whether Web 2.0 is something new or merely an extension of existing technologies. The bottom line is the magnitude of the impact of the current generation of services.
  • Network effects play a leading role in enabling Web 2.0 firms. Many of these services also rely on ad-supported revenue models.

Questions and Exercises

  1. What distinguishes Web 2.0 technologies and services from the prior generation of Internet sites?
  2. Several examples of rapidly rising Web 2.0 efforts are listed in this section. Can you think of other dramatic examples? Are there cautionary tales of efforts that may not have lived up to their initial hype or promise? Why do you suppose they failed?
  3. Make your own list of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 services and technologies. Would you invest in them? Why or why not?
  4. In what ways do Web 2.0 efforts challenge the assumptions that Michael Porter made regarding Strategy and the Internet?