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Commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation, Issue #09-05 - More Thought Provoking Commentary!
March 10, 2009
You are invited to read the latest commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation. It will make you think!
Web 2.0: The World is Flat!By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
“It’s … fantastic, we host all our data on S3, our applications on EC2, our website on Fasthosts and our email and calendaring on Google. It’s a completely virtual company. You could burn the office down tomorrow and at most we’d lose a day’s work. With Google, we will soon have all our documents and spreadsheets online, and if they ever got over that… pages… we’d host our website there as well.” From Darren Barefoot.com 8/29/2006, (profanity removed)
“More than 90 per cent of the technology that will affect our daily lives at the beginning of the 21st century has not been invented. This means that more innovations will be introduced in the next ten years than were produced throughout previous human history." Freeman Dyson, physicist and principal architect of the theory of quantum electrodynamics
Thomas Friedman told us the world is flat, but he barely touched the surface in describing the interconnectedness of all of us on the little blue pebble on which we live. Those who brought us Web 1.0 brought us a new way of doing our shopping and communicating on a basic level. Web 2.0 has brought us a revolution in social networking, the effects of which cannot be fully described, but it promises fundamental change in how we work, socialize, shop, manage our affairs and our politics. It is a world without borders.
For many of us crustaceans, comfortable in historically established ways of managing, interconnecting socially, shopping and carrying on our daily lives, we think it is either irrelevant to our daily lives or threatening to the comfort we feel in the established order of our lives. Be warned; dare to think the former at your peril. Without the courage to extend our comfort zones to embrace the changes that are already storming our ramparts, tearing asunder the boundaries of the world in which we live, our choices are either understand and accept the new world or be overwhelmed and left behind.
The “Bible” for those wanting to understand its implications has been created in a “wiki” like brainstorming session at INSEAD, west of Paris in 2007 by the INSEAD duo of Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta. Playing off the Facebook practice of “Throwing Sheep,” they have given it the fanciful title: Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom. The idea is that we give up our normal way of thinking about the world and embrace the previously unthinkable.
Web 2.0 was thusly dubbed at a 2004 new media conference by a high level roster of Web entrepreneurs, chastened by the meltdown of Web 1.0 and searching for a new model for the expansion of web effects that might lead to undreamed of connectivity for humankind. Not focused on commercial connectivity but social connectivity on a mammoth scale, the idea was that the Internet could spawn a whole new way of connecting us in a useful way to all parts of our past experience through our social experience and provide the essential tool for us to strengthen and leverage those relationships for a richer and fuller future.
Voila! newly emergent social networks of all kinds began appearing soon thereafter. My Space at 130 million and Facebook at almost 200 million “members,” freely interacting with friends and reaching out through activity groupings to friends, relatives and new connections, provide structure for activities stretching from just keeping in touch to organizing political movements, swapping information on books they have read, fan club activity and just generally moving the focus of their social networking to their favorite site. Fortune magazine notes in a recent issue that visitors to Facebook spend an average of 169 minutes a month and rely on it for a significant portion of organizing their social activity.
Web 2.0 is not just social. Linked-in, a site that specializes in professional networking is growing by leaps and bounds and has raised the marketing of self to a previously impossible level short of hiring expensive public relations and head-hunter resources.
Web 2.0 also is a powerful educational tool. David Warlick, one of the new age educators and first adopters, states: "My vision of school/classroom 2.0 is, more than anything else, about conversations. Traditional schools involved teachers and textbooks delivering information to students, and students reflecting that information back. To better serve their future, today’s classrooms should facilitate teaching and learning as a conversation - two-way conversations between teachers and learners, conversations between learners and other learners, conversations among teachers, and new conversations between the classroom and the home and between the school and its community."
Something beyond the mere social interconnectivity is going on here, or the financial stake being played by large players is sadly mistaken. Facebook has sold less that two percent of itself to Microsoft for 240 million dollars but has yet to solve the profit conundrum and feels it is too soon to judge its ultimate commercial potential. As their long term future is dependent on providing a return for its sponsors, the revenue question looms large. The example of AOL which had to abandon its monthly fee in favor of a media driven content platform and still has not secured its future emphasizes that the eyeballs being reached are unwilling to pay directly for content. With their coffers still full from its investors, there is still time for Facebook, but in cyber space, time moves at cyber speed and will overtake them if it is not producing substantial revenues in the next year or so.
Drs. Fraser and Dutta note that most 2.0 sites organize around opportunistic connections such as Linked In, passion centric sharing of interests and hobbies or media sharing. Facebook seeks all three and is prepared to allow itself to be sub-organized horizontally or vertically to provide the maximum in social utility. According to Business Week, their intent is to be the next Google or Microsoft not just a social networking site. With cyber speed, that future should become clearer as Web 2.0 morphs into what it will become. Meanwhile for business generally, it is time it must use to reinvent the management model for a totally disintermediated organization. Notions of corporate discipline and the management chain are under serious assault with little notion of what will replace it. For Facebook, their answer is to hire a Google and Clinton administration veteran, Sheryl Sandberg, who at 39 is the chief operating officer and resident wiser, older head at the helm. Any way you look at it, Web2.0 will have a revolutionary impact on our notions of the world and human connectivity.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert E. Freer, Jr. All rights reserved
About the author: Robert E. Freer, Jr. is President of The Free Enterprise Foundation. He is a Visiting Professor, at The Citadel and elected in 2005 to be their first John S. Grinalds Leader in Residence. A regular contributor to the Mercury, He can be reached by E-mail at The Citadel . Copies of his earlier columns can be found The Free Enterprise Foundation.
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