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: ask 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.
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.