A Social Revolution by Modeling Human Behavior

It’s easy to assume that Web 2.0 is a technological revolution, with acronyms like RSS, APIs, Ajax, and XML floating around. However, I think though technology has a central role to play, the real revolution isn’t technological, it’s people-based. Web 2.0 is a social revolution. A common view is that technology drastically changes the way […]

It’s easy to assume that Web 2.0 is a technological revolution, with acronyms like RSS, APIs, Ajax, and XML floating around. However, I think though technology has a central role to play, the real revolution isn’t technological, it’s people-based. Web 2.0 is a social revolution.

A common view is that technology drastically changes the way that we live. It does to an extent, but upon deeper inspection we observe that most of that change is actually gains in efficiency concerning things we already do and not really a change to our core activities: communicating, listening, watching, learning, comparing, contrasting. Our bodies haven’t changed much at all. But our expectations have. We want more, more, more. More of what we already have.

Software Models Human Behavior

Similarly, the most innovative software doesn’t give humans something new to do, it models something we already do better. Look at the most popular software of the moment:

  • Skype models phone conversations.
  • iTunes models music listening.
  • Google Search models the way we value content.
  • Flickr models the way we share and view photos.
  • Amazon models the way that we talk about books.
  • Del.icio.us models the way we save things.

The innovation in these applications is not that they let us do something new, but that they allow us to do what we already do better, more often, in more places, and more quickly. It’s in how they model human behavior. Some aggregate selfish human activities, like Del.icio.us does with bookmarking and Google Search does with links. Some aggregate public human activities, like Amazon does with reviews. Some simply give tools to communicate more efficiently, like Skype does.

Enablers and the Real Innovation

The terms being thrown around concerning Web 2.0: web as platform, architecture of participation, web as OS, these are not the real innovations. These are enablers of the real innovation: a social revolution brought on by an incredible leap in the creation of software that allows humans to be, well, more human.

Published: October 15th, 2005

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