There was internet, and there is internet. But there has been a shift of focus as to how we deal with the internet. Is internet changing our lives, or is it that we are changing the way we look at the internet? Dibyajyoti Sarma digs deep into the issue
Can you imagine the day, not in a very distant future, where television, as we know it, would be a thing of the past? A time when we’ll laugh at the very idea that once we sat in front of the idiot box, suffering enumerable advertisements, just to catch up with our favourite movie, or the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal!
Ask Bill Gates, and he predicts that it’s a matter of just five years when TV would obsolete. “I’m stunned how people aren’t seeing that with TV, in five years from now, people will laugh at what we’ve had,” he told business leaders and politicians at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week. “Certain things like elections or the Olympics really point out how TV is terrible. You have to wait for the guy to talk about the thing you care about or you miss the event and want to go back and see it. Internet presentation of these things is vastly superior.
And looks like Mr Gates is not alone. There is a world out there who believe it’s time for the virtual. And the truth is, since the time of the dot com boom in the last decade of the last millennium, the legend had it coming, the ether is the future…
Some call it the war between the real and the virtual. For some, its just a good business proposition. For others, it’s the world of entertainment, with music, movies and games. And yet, for others, it’s just another day at the job.
Whatever you may call it, the Internet, the Web, the dot com, the World Wide Web, is not only here to stay but also is going to change the way we see the world, or better still, the way we do our work, and entertain ourselves.
The dot come boom was not a stray incident. The rise and the fall and the rise of the internet in the last decade of the 20th century and the early years of this century, not only proved the staying power of the internet, but also established its importance in our day-to-day life. At the same time, it also confirmed that quality counts. When the dot com bubble finally burst, it only highlighted the classic adage of natural selection, survival of the fittest.
The search engine, the email, the e-commerce, and so many other ‘e’-s survived and flourished.
Then, internet came of age. To the second generation. To an usage of internet like never before.
The internet started as the provider, a gateway. We can send our mails, we can chat, communicate, we can share data, ideas, images, and we can shop, all online.
However, it was not enough. We wanted more. We wanted the shift in control. We wanted to move to the next generation. Instead of being depended on a provider, we wanted to provide.
This is the rise of Web 2.0. The million of people sitting on the other side of the computer screen began to take the rein in their hands. They began to create their own platform within the cyber space. They began to write blogs. They began to upload photos. They began to create and spread music and videos. They began to play games. They began to share concerns. They began to spread awareness.
They began to inhabit online!
What’s the next step from here? Now, that’s a million dollar question…
The shift in paradigm
How and why internet companies are becoming more important than the real ones
A consumer poll some time back exposed the worst kept secret in the business world: Internet companies are becoming more important to people than firms that operate in the real world.
Google retained its title as the world’s most influential brand, and video-sharing site YouTube and online encyclopedia Wikipedia were catapulted into the top five at the No 3 and 4 spots, according to the annual survey by online branding magazine brandchannel.com.
While brandchannel’s survey is not uncontroversial as it asks 3,625 branding professionals and students “Which brand had the most impact on our lives in 2006?” rather than measuring economic impact, the evidence of the result is everywhere.
Visitors of technology and telecoms tradeshows, for instance, may be forgiven for thinking that photo-sharing site Flickr, blogging software firm Vox, Internet calling service Skype and YouTube are multibillion dollar companies, because no company from the old world announces anything without them.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Internet service provider Yahoo, at 12 years already an old timer in the Web world, was marched on stage during several “joint product” announcements, including those with Sony (founded in 1946) and Motorola (from 1928).
Mobile phone giant Nokia (founded 1865) needed Skype, Flickr and Vox to beef up its new product launches.
“All innovation is coming from the edge of the Internet,” said James Enck, an analyst, referring to the Web sites which offer services online.
As in any industry, innovation lures new customers. John Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco (founded in 1984) which is the biggest plumber of the Internet, calculated that in four years time 20 families will generate as much Internet traffic as the entire world in 1995.
“Ask yourself how many more hours you are using the Internet compared with 10 years ago. Now, ask yourself how many more minutes you make calls on a mobile phone. “There’s no comparison,” said Bengt Nordstrom, chief strategy officer at business and technology consultants InCode. “Internet brands are the brands people use and which they like. They are much stronger than mobile brands,” he added.
Jupiter Research estimated last year that online users clocked up an average of 14 hours of Internet usage per week. That compares an average 5 to 10 minutes per day of mobile phone chats amongst consumers in Europe, China and India, according to market research group Wireless Intelligence.
It can be easy and cheap to run an Internet company and this means a lot of ideas are coming to the market and many products are free to use.
It explains why 3.5 year-old Internet community site MySpace has 90 million unique users. Rival Craigslist, despite its no-frills layout, has 10 million registered users and gets over four billion page views per month with just 22 employees.
Small wonder Philips, Nokia, Motorola and Sony, as well as telecoms operators like 3 all want to tap into those vast customer bases which embrace the new Internet brands.
“People value strong brands,” said Gerard Kleisterlee, the chief executive of Philips which at CES launched Skype phones.
It may not be so surprising that Google tops the global brand chart. It has a market capitalisation of $153 billion and also takes a strong position in the traditional Interbrand ranking of global brands — at the No 24 spot it is the world’s fastest rising brand measured in dollar value.
More significant is the popularity of six year old online encyclopedia Wikipedia which has fewer than 10 employees and relies on volunteers to write the entries, and Skype which is a four year old company with 510 staff, 171 million registered users and ranks No 2 in Europe according to Brandchannel.com.
“The Internet is the great equalise-equaliser. It doesn’t matter how small you are, the Internet gives you power and presence and you can reach the global population in one fell swoop,” said Skype’s co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.
Brandwise: Globally Google
The brand survey conducted by online branding magazine brandchannel.com, offered some surprised winners, including YouTube and Wikipedia. But Google still rules the roost.
Google enjoyed an unrivaled dominance throughout 2006. The dust barely cleared on its $ 900 million deal with News Corporation to provide service to sites such as MySpace when it purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion. But perhaps its most noteworthy brand achievement last year was the addition of the verb “to google” in two major English-language dictionaries.
Apple barely edges YouTube for the runner-up slot. The company launched its first computers powered by Intel processors (as it phased out those by Motorola), the iTunes Music Store sold its 1 billionth song, and so far, people haven’t been chucking their iPods for the Microsoft Zune.
Following Apple are two Readers’ Choice newcomers: the aforementioned YouTube, and the spreading-like-Google Wikipedia. The backbone of both brands is user-created content: one allows you to watch (or upload your own version of) a “Mentos eruption” that occurs when you slip the chewy candies into a bottle of diet cola, while the other details why this junk-food fireworks takes place.
YouTube launched in 2005, and this year, with 20 million monthly visitors, exploded like Mentos in Diet Coke and was named Time’s “Invention of the Year.” And did we mention that Google bought it for $1.65 billion in stock?
Since its creation comparatively eons ago (2001), Wikipedia grew slowly and steadily (pages in well over 100 languages, with more than 1.5 million articles on the English version alone) as it became the premier—if not always accurate—online research tool.
In a virtual tie for fifth place are perennial favorites Starbucks and Nokia, proving caffeine and cellphones haven’t gone out of style. In 2006, the java giant added more franchises in China and also branched into the entertainment business as one of the producers of the film Akeelah and the Bee. Nokia and Siemens AG created one of the world’s largest network firms, called Nokia Siemens Networks, by merging their mobile and fixed-line phone network equipment businesses.
Creating the brand
Unlike other brand rankings that crunch financial numbers, the Readers’ Choice poll measures brand impact according to brandchannel readers. The study runs online and is open to the public during November and December.
More than 3,600 people from 99 countries voted in the 2006 poll. The greatest number of voters fell in the age range of 26 to 35 year olds, with an almost equal number of men and women.
Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a perceived or proposed second generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.
According to Tim O’Reilly Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.
Web 2.0 hints at an improved form of the World Wide Web; and advocates suggest that technologies such as weblogs, social bookmarking, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds (and other forms of many-to-many publishing), social software, Web APIs, Web standards and online Web services imply a significant change in web usage.
Characteristics of Web 2.0
While the debate on what Web 2.0 actually means continue, a Web 2.0 web-site may exhibit some basic characteristics:
Network as platform — delivering (and allowing users to use) applications entirely through a browser.
Users owning the data on the site and exercising control over that data.
An architecture of participation and democracy that encourages users to add value to the application as they use it.
A rich, interactive, user-friendly interface.
Some social-networking aspects.
Educating the planet
Wes Smith profiles Jimmy Wales, who is trying to educate the planet via Wikipedia
First his claim to fame. He is the founder of history’s largest, free and questionably accurate online encyclopedia.
Known by Wikipedians worldwide as the “God-King,” Wales could well be a Web prophet, yet this 40-year old bearded, introspective fellow, who prefers to be called “Jimbo,” has an offline presence vastly overshadowed by the online creation he unleashed in January 2001.
Wikipedia (wikipedia.org) has evolved rapidly into a global resource and a cosmic phenomenon. More than 3 million registered Wikipedians have posted 5 million articles in at least 250 languages in just five years. Writ by the people for the people, it has unrivaled reach.
“We have 2,700 articles in Swahili now, and 4,200 articles in Kannada, the main Indian dialect in Bangalore,” notes Wales, whose mission is to spread knowledge across social, economic and geographic borders.
Wikipedia’s Web site, run by hundreds of servers in the Tampa area and overseas, gets more than 2,000 page requests per second and is usually ranked among the top 15 most-viewed Web sites, according to Wikipedia, which is not always accurate, Wales admits.
Expertise is not a requirement for the encyclopedia’s unpaid authors. Nearly anyone with access to the Internet can contribute entries or edit existing selections thanks to “wiki” (Hawaiian for “quickly”) collaborative software.
Instead of authoritative experts, this free online encyclopedia run by a nonprofit foundation relies on the collective smarts and good intentions of doting Wikipedians. Still, mistakes, falsehoods and errors show up. Vandals known as “WikiTrolls” slip in lies, jokes, porn and obscenities, stirring controversy and criticism.
“The George W Bush entry is the most heavily edited site, and it may be the most vandalised, but sometimes the trolls are just quirky,” Wales says. “Often it’s one strange person on a tangent. We had a guy who was very agitated about Chopin’s birthday and kept changing it.”
The price is right even if the information is wrong now and then. Since Wales bans ads on Wikipedia, the foundation relies on financial aid from nearly 13,000 benefactors for its budget of $1.5 million.
Wales created his constantly updated encyclopedia in the benevolent belief that truth emerges from pooled wisdom. Since bad stuff does float to the surface, he has deputized more than a thousand volunteers as “admins.” They police Wikipedia, bust WikiTrolls who try to disrupt the site, and lock down oft-molested areas, such as that of the commander in chief.
“Our approach is to tell people to knock it off because we are trying to do something useful here,” Wales says. Supporters have described Wikipedia as democracy in action, a Utopian project and the World’s Brain. Critics, including its former top editor, have assailed it as “anarchy with gang rule,” and likened it to a public restroom, or the world’s most-ambitious vanity press.
“The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous revision will lead to continuous improvement,” says Ted Pappas, executive editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “The mounting evidence seems to suggest the opposite: that the endless revising that Wikipedia articles undergo often makes them worse over time.”
Software guru Eric Raymond, whose work reportedly inspired Wales, recently told New Yorker writer Stacy Schiff that Wikipedia is a disaster “infested with moonbats.” Schiff concluded that the online encyclopedia is “a lumpy work in progress.”
Wales, who retains final say over all Wikipedia entries (thousands are rejected each month), takes in stride the tossed moonbats and brickbats, noting Wikipedia should be regarded as a starting point for information, not as the authoritative source.
“As with any encyclopedia, you should go to Wikipedia for background knowledge only,” he says. “It is a work in progress and subject to change, but for the most part people find it reasonably accurate.”
History’s greatest encyclopedia pitchman (nonprofit, Web-based, wiki division) drives a Hyundai and lives in a modest 2,200-square-foot St Pete ranch house when not traipsing the globe, coach class.
Confessed cheapskate Wales fled high-cost California for St Pete four years ago with his wife, Christina (a former Mitsubishi steel trader whom he met while living in Chicago), and their home-schooled daughter Kira, 5. “We moved here because when my daughter was a year old, we started shopping for a house in San Diego and prices were just ridiculous, so I started thinking; ‘Gee, for my work I could be anywhere,’” he says.
The son of a grocery-store manager and a teacher mother who ran a small private school called The House of Learning, Wales lives frugally by choice. He did “very well” as an options trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the 1990s before joining the dot.com boom in California. But he draws no income from Wikipedia, which cost him $500,000 to launch.
“My philosophy is you can be a lot more financially independent if you choose to live cheaply,” says Wales. “You can have a big expensive house and a Mercedes, but then you are a slave to your job.”
Wales is more Wikibohemian than flashy dot.com dude. His top-echelon tech friends include Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org, a mostly free classified ad site, and Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, the couple who created free photo-sharing site Flickr.com.
Wales prefers to do his socializing with that Web 2.0 crowd on their turf in San Francisco, which makes sense, according to Newmark. “Like me, Jimmy is basically an engineer at heart, and sometimes we are not socialised the way most people are,” Craigslist.org’s creator says. “I joke about us having nerd values, but in a sense it is a reassertion of traditional values and focusing on what matters.”
“Wikipedia resembles Jimmy’s personality. He is a low-profile character who doesn’t pound his chest and act like the sole authority on everything, and we applaud him for that,” says Andy Hafer, forum president. “A thriving tech community takes all types, and Jimmy is operating at a level that many of us are never going to see or comprehend.”
Wikipedia's offices reflect Wales’ penny-pinching philosophy and the foundation’s nonprofit status. The unsalaried God-King and six paid staffers are packed together in a Dilbert-worthy warren of mismatched chairs and no-frill furnishings.
Wales doesn’t need a lot of workspace since he views the Internet as an extension of his mind. He fills in real-time conversations with info deftly plucked from the Internet as he speaks without missing a word or a stroke.
“I’m online almost all the time, and if I’m not online I’m reading my e-mail off-line. I’m very connected,” he says.
Wales has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn University and a master’s in finance from the University of Alabama. He has a mind for math, but he has been an avid reader since the age of 4. He often perused the family World Books, though his childhood favorites were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
“I was pretty geeky,” he says. “I played soccer for a year in high school, but I was too much of a geek to be good.”
Thanks to an uncle with a computer shop, Wales was an early adopter of the personal computer, a Tandy TRS-80. Though he draws no paycheck from Wikipedia, Wales already is reaping financial rewards from a spin-off. Wikia Inc is a free hosting service for the Web sites of special interest communities of every ilk. Like Wikipedia, it accepts content and editing from one and all, on whatever topics float their boat. At least 30,000 users have posted more than 400,000 articles on Wikia, according to Wikipedia, (which, remember, might be wrong).
The most actively edited sites on Wikia included those for collectors of Marvel and DC comics, and fan sites for Star Wars, the Muppets, Lost and 24. One of the most popular Wikia sites is Uncyclopedia, a Wikipedia parody that vows to “put the psych” in encyclopedia. Wales finds it “hysterical.”
He has been less amused by jabs from critics for his frequent editing of his own biographical entry in Wikipedia, considered bad form by Wikipedians and akin to “Googling” oneself.
(Inputs from IT Herald team, Reuters and MCT)