How Facebook Is Bringing Web 2.0 Mainstream

July 19th, 2007 | Categories: AJAX, blogs, networks, off topic, social media, strategy, trends, video, widgets, wikis

Web 2.0 is an echo-chamber - let’s face it. Many deny the fact, but it’s true. Ask anyone on the street about RSS, widgets, APIs, or wikis and you’ll get a blank face. Chances are they’ll think you’re speaking another language. Even fairly tech savvy Internet users frown upon such terms and phrases. As much as we’d like to think web 2.0 is mainstream, it isn’t.

Those who live in this echo-chamber glorify the trends and technologies, as their value and potential is recognizable. This bleeding-edge Internet group wants the world to learn about these technologies, but the fact of the matter is that they are very daunting and intimidating to the average user. In other words, web 2.0 needs to be humanized before it can ever be adopted by the mainstream.

Who is leading the pack when it comes to humanizing web 2.0? Facebook. Here is proof: Facebook new logoask any Facebook user if they know what RSS is or if they’ve ever used it? Chances are they have no idea what it is and they’ll admit to never using it. Little do they know, the Facebook ‘News Feed’ is essentially a rebranded RSS reader. Instead of pulling blog posts and news articles, the reader aggregates updates from your friends’ profiles.

This brings me to the most important point of all: Facebook is educating the masses about web 2.0 without them even knowing. In other words, Facebook IS bringing web 2.0 mainstream.

How is Facebook accomplishing such an improbable feat? By rebranding the terms and phrases that seem so daunting and sophisticated. This facilitates the education process and reduces the learning curve, making it easier for regular folk to adopt these technologies.

The term “social network” is synonymous with web 2.0. Though the nature of the term may be rather self-explanatory, people understand it. Sites such as MySpace, hi5, and Friendster have helped to provide clarity around its meaning. This education process is exactly what is happening at Facebook as we speak.

Let’s explore some of the web 2.0 technologies that Facebook has rebranded as internal features:

Wikis - By definition, a wiki is a collaborative space that can be edited by anyone with access to the site. This notion of participation and cooperation creates a more productive, usable information portal for all affiliated members.

Facebook has rebranded this concept as ‘Groups’. Within a given group, you are able to start a conversation (with a message), add photos, and provide simple commentary. Furthermore, administrators and officers have added control and functionality.

Blogs - When a user writes a ‘Note’ on Facebook, they are expressing their thoughts or opinions in a given manner. A collection of these notes, in reverse chronological order, can be classified as a ‘weblog’ or blog.

The offline concept of a diary has been around for centuries. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to consider a jump into the online world.

User-Generated Content (UGC) - Once again, the term may seem rather self-explanatory, but it does need some clarification. UGC is content created by the user - it is not production quality. Examples include photos, videos, and audio clips.

Not only does Facebook upload an astonishing amount of photos each day, but they also provide a simple, yet powerful video experience. Simply put, users are constantly interacting with user-generated content. They just don’t know it.  

API - An API is an Application Programming Interface. In other words, it is a way to let others integrate with your service by tapping into your data. This is what Facebook has done with their new F8 Platform’. They’re allowing others the ability to tap into Facebook’s database and create applications which can then be added to the system and adopted by users.

Micro-blogging - This new phenomenon is essentially a mini-form of blogging. Recently made popular by companies such as Twitter and Tumblr, micro-blogging is a way to provide a short message (usually less than 200 characters) about your life, mood, or current state via the web, e-mail, text, or IM. To meet demand in this area, Facebook launched ‘Status Updates’, which is simply another way of labelling micro-blogging.

Widgets - Though the comparison may be a bit rough, it is still worth acknowledging. A widget is an embedded device that provides some level of value to the publisher. This is somewhat akin to what Facebook has done with their ‘F8 Platform’, and more notably ‘Applications’. Once a user adds a given ‘Application’, it appears on their profile page, where other users can see it and interact with it (or even add it themselves).

RSS - The concept of the ‘News Feed’ acting as an RSS reader was outlined above. Having said that, Facebook has started to integrate actual RSS protocol within the site as well. Anyone now has the ability to subscribe (via RSS) to another user’s ‘Notes’, in many cases. I’m sure RSS is being used in other places within the site, but I have just failed to notice them. In any case, I expect the adoption of RSS within the Facebook community to be slow, but steady.

On top of all these obvious examples, Facebook also makes extensive use of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) throughout the site. This creates a more intuitive, enjoyable user experience.

I could probably go on and on and outline further examples, but I think we can all get a grasp of the situation that is unfolding. What can we learn from all this? Facebook is a rebranding machine. The ability to provide such advanced technologies in a simple manner is truly remarkable. The day that excites me the most is the day that people realize that they understand what all these web 2.0 technologies are. That will be the day that web 2.0 goes mainstream - and I have a funny feeling that that day is coming sooner than we imagine.

48 Comments

  1. Mark Evans Says:

    Interesting thesis.

    While I think you are probably giving FB a little too much credit, there’s no doubt it is doing a pretty amazing job getting folks exposed to UGC, RSS, Wikis, etc. in a user-friendly way (without all the confusing acronyms!). I mean, when parents are getting jiggy with FB, then maybe the New Web (aka Web 2.0) has broken into the mainstream. :) When my mother gets a FB account, then you’ll definitely know FB has jumped the shark.

  2. Friedbeef Says:

    Awesome post mate!

  3. Mikael Pittam Says:

    Hey Aidan, this is a well-written piece. Now let’s see you top this one. I am surprised you didn’t include Pownce in your micro-blogging section.

  4. nwmosher Says:

    Well written, and a great example of how effective Web 2.0 can be. The technical jargon isn’t the important part; what matters is that Facebook has used technology to enable social networking in a way that hasn’t been seen before.

    I thought facebook would start to fade into the crowd of other social sites when it opened its doors to the public (as opposed to only students), but evidently the versatility of the site and its core technology has kept it a leader in the field. Now Facebooking, much like Google-ing, has moved from a website to a verb.

  5. Jeffrey Keefer Says:

    Aidan, I think your insight into how FaceBook is using Web 2.0 technology without using its more technical or geeky names is a good point. I think it is often the case that those who are actively involved in new developments are often unable to communicate them to the average person, and the acceptance comes when somebody bridges the gap with something to fill a mass need that the masses may not have yet identified. Keep up the great insights.

  6. dave mcclure Says:

    nice post aidan… excellent observations & deft summary :)

    they probably still need to do more to make Platform easier, but i bet they get there in another 6-12 months.

    regardless, at the moment they’re leaving everyone else in the dust. the level of competition is really pretty lame. hope someone gives them a run for the money just to keep ‘em honest, but i’m not sure…

    - dave mcclure
    http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/07/kottke-is-wrong.html

  7. Dave Lowe Says:

    I a new to Facebook, I guess I jumped on the bandwagon a little late. But I like what I see so far, and I am encouraging my friends to sign up. The technology is sound, and as you say, it’s a watered down Web 2.0 experience for the novice user. It’s like MySpace for grown-ups.

  8. Pokebook Says:

    Facebook is a social-networking site. Pokebook is a 100% free dating site bringing web 2.0 mainstream.

  9. Stephen Albinati Says:

    Great post Aidan — there is so much written about Facebook these days and not too much of it is original. Thanks for contributing something of value.

  10. Eric Jordan Says:

    Aidan — I agree with the ideas. I think Facebook’s focus is bringing together Web 2.0 technologies in a simple and useable way which creates a compelling user experience. It is more focused on the user, than on technologies or re-branding technologies.

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  14. Aakash Says:

    Very Interesting. I must say, some of these things I didn’t even know until I read your blog. Thanks for the heads up!

    My opinion: Facebook is a wave, it’ll eventually calm down…

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  24. Isaac Lewis Says:

    You make some very good points here; heck, I’m not even sure what an RSS reader is, but Facebook’s news feed is an easy concept. Widgets = applications is also good.

    However, I have to disagree with two points. Blogs were mainstream before Facebook - since they tend to give so much for journalists to write about, I’d be surprised if there were many people who hadn’t heard about them, and they’re not especially complicated.

    Also, groups aren’t wikis, they’re forums. Members can’t edit each others posts.

  25. Mobile tracker Says:

    I personally do not use facebook, coz none of my friends use it, but I love gmail, really great.

  26. Web 2.0 « INTERACTION SATISFACTION Says:

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  27. social network Says:

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  28. Marilyn Says:

    It is unbelievable how many years ago that the aricle was first written and yet there only really seems to be Facebook out there using web 2.0 technology in a huge way.

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    I am an educator and I am interested in helping my students understand the technology behind the web 2.0 interface. Can you help me map the individual principles to the actual functions of Facebook? Like, what does what exactly? Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

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    FaceBook always update their features and new things which attract people. This is the main reason it is dominating social network.

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