Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Dark Side of Web 2.0

There have been a number of great posts recently about the promise of "Web 2.0", as well as ideas on how to capitalize on this new wave of innovation. I'm as big a fan of these changes as anyone, and I think RSS, AJAX, and other enabling technologies will make the web much more useful over the next few years. However, as with any change, it's not all roses - there are real trade-offs that need to be made, and the companies out there aren't always making the right decisions.

In no particular order, the top 5 issues I see right now with "Web 2.0" are:
  1. Loss of context
    A lot of bloggers have commented on this, how they prefer people to read their posts in the framework of their site, as it puts it into proper context. I have to confess, I read about 30 VC/technology related blogs per day, and a lot of them blend together. I use BlogLines to read my feeds, so they all look the same from a format perspective, and there's no brand impression made by the look and feel of the websites. Often times I will know that I read a great post, but when I look for it later in the day, I have to search among 5-10 different blogs to find it.

    One blog that does it right is TechCrunch. Even within the framework of a feedreader, each of their posts carries a similar, unique format. I realize it's easier for them to do this because each of their profiles covers the same types of information, but I think the same lessons can be applied to more general posts as well.

  2. Interdependencies, and multiple failure points
    Fred Wilson recently discussed his move from Bloglet to FeedBlitz. For those readers who now get his blog via email, the services involved are - TypePad (which I believe is Fred's blogging host), FeedBurner (which is used to add stats, etc), and then FeedBlitz which takes the feed and emails it out. This is definitely a model case of the interaction that web services allow, but it also creates multiple points of failure. In addition to being tougher to debug problems, it also makes no one completely accountable. For uses like a blog, that's not a big deal, but as the importance of these new mashups grow, customer's will start to demand accountability. There may be a whole market that grows up around managing the interactions and putting a customer service wrapper around all these services, much like RedHat does with Linux.

  3. Speed
    Thanks to a comment on my last post, I was able to find the way to export my Bloglines subscription and try out the Pluck web interface. How was it? I have no idea. After importing all of my feeds (which I have to admit was pretty painless), I tried to start reading some feeds to get a feel for basic navigation, before I went looking for advanced features. Unfortunately, the site is S-L-O-W. It took me 5-10 seconds to pull up a feed, something that usually takes <3 in BlogLines. I'll admit the Pluck interface looks better, but I was back using BlogLines in 10 min. The lesson? Find out what your users do most, and make it FAST. Only then should you worry about the bells and whistles. Pluck could have some absolutely amazing feed management and reading tools, but I'll never find out. Others have abandoned Technorati recently for the same reason.

  4. Data ownership
    Okay, so back to my old pet peeve - who's data is it? When my apps were all desktop based, it was easy - it was my data, and I could get it if I wanted. When it's all stored on a server, you better make it easy for me to get it out. However, after my last post on this subject, I've had several interesting conversations, and I realize it's not that black and white.

    What makes data "mine" - is it because I created it? Or is it because it is about me? Social networking sites are a great example. If I have contact information for a bunch of my friends on a site, the data could be mine, my friends' or the site's. It's in my account, but the data is about my friends. Should they have to give permission before I can take it out of the shared system? When Amazon gives me recommendations, they are in my account, but I didn't create that data - should I be allowed to take it with me? I think this is one area that will have to be handled through trial and error, as services find out what boundaries the market is willing to accept.

  5. Less interaction
    This seems like a contradiction, with new services popping every day that allow more interaction. However, here I'm speaking specifically about RSS, and the current state of feedreaders. Before my discovery of RSS and feeds, I bookmarked blogs that I found interesting, and pulled them up in a set of firefox tabs every day. I read the posts, which usually were directly followed by the comments, and the form to add my own. I would say that I usually posted 1 comment a day back then, and I read comments on most posts.

    Ever since switching to a feedreader however, I pretty much just read what's in front of me. That one extra click to actually go the page and scroll down to the comments has drastically reduced the number of comments that I read or write. As a result, I'm once again moving to the producer/consumer relationship with most of my feeds, rather than the conversational relationship I enjoyed earlier. Tom Evslin has made some autolinks at the bottom of each of his posts, which have made it slightly easier , but few people will go through what he did to get them into place.

In conclusion, I don't intend this to be a list of reasons why companies mentioned above will fail, but rather a set of opportunities for the right firms to address to create new businesses or competitive advantages.