Tuesday, November 07, 2006


A geek-friend of mine forwarded me this email that he'd sent to some other friends on a recent Saturday night while exploring del.icio.us for the first time:

oh my god

tag clouds are so cool when you start playing with friends. j, v, your tag clouds require, like, a lot of scrolling, dudes. this is so neat. j, you gonna lay some midi beats on us, or what?

dude, i'm like surf'n tag clouds on a saturday night. this ain't your parents world no more

d, can I call you v - that's got flooow... sorry, i'm a dork...

i've invited a few more friends to come play...
I know exactly how he feels, and I haven't even smoked anything.

I've heard about Web 2.0 for a while now, but I didn't get it. I guessed (partially correctly) that it was the regrowth of the technology market after the bubble burst in the early 00's. I thought maybe it was about a set of new and hot programming languages about which I didn't concern myself too much since I'm now in management and have gotten soft about these things (but that's another post).

I was partially right, but mostly wrong.

It's only in the last one or two months that I've skimmed the surface of Web 2.0. I have had a Flickr account since May, and set up my 43 Things page in August. I started using del.icio.us about a month ago, and I'm still getting used to it. I feel like a late adopter, and partly (and probably unfairly) I blame NY, because when I lived in California I was so immersed in All Things Geek that I'm sure that if I still lived there, I'd have been a much earlier adopter of these tools.

But here I am, and these tools are probably better-honed than they were two years ago, and I feel incredibly fortunate to know about them now.

The idea of community is very appealing to me. One of the things I find difficult about living in NY is that, because I (and I think many of my fellow New Yorkers) are physically so close to other people all the time, I tend to retreat whenever I have the chance. The constant physical proximity usually doesn't result in a personal connection, and the tendency to look for personal space can result in missed opportunities to connect with people on a deeper level. This phenomenon is hard to describe accurately, because for the most part I'm pretty social. To put it another way: Because personal space is hard to come by, I tend to choose it over a social activity whenever I can. My experience of living in the suburbs was kind of the opposite: Because I spent so much time alone (in my car, for example), I took more advantage of social events.

Enter Web 2.0. Enter folksonomies and tag clouds and The Long Tail.

I'm infatuated with these ideas. I'm infatuated with the idea that, with the right infrastructure, millions of people can contribute to each other's individual and collective experiences. When I set up my 43 Things page, the first goal I wrote was make croissants from scratch. To my surprise, only one other person had listed that as a goal. On a whim, I sent her email commenting about our shared goal, and found out that she's my age and lives in Australia, and that we have a bunch of other things in common as well. (We've corresponded briefly by email; I plan to send her a link to the croissant-making recap.) I've been inspired by other people's goals on the site and added them as my own. Since setting up my page, I've completed two of my goals, written about other things that I've done, and been just a little more conscious of how I spend my free time.

Is all of this attributable to Web 2.0? Maybe, maybe not. But my use of these collaborative sites has certainly increased the amount that I share and connect with other people.

As for The Long Tail, the gist of it is that most of the content (movies, music, books, etc.) that's been available in the past was the so-called blockbuster hits, but with the proliferation of the ability to create content cheaply, to review and recommend content, and to make the content available, we can now find content that is more suited to our tastes. And we can find that content more quickly. If nothing else, reading The Long Tail made me aware that my web-surfing of late is more focused and productive; that is, the sites and articles I find are more relevant to my specific interests than what I found a few years ago.

And so the community grows, one goal, photo, place, tag, person at a time. As my friend says, this ain't your parents' world no more.

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