The Web 2.0 magic may be fading …

Is our love affair with social media as a way to change the world for the better, while having fun, coming to an end? Maybe the ungeeks are pushing back, even where enthusiasm was previously unbridled. Maybe the party’s over. Perhaps the bubble has burst, again.

The memes and cliches are flying because yesterday this tweet popped into my Twitter stream from Roland Harwood, who works for NESTA, the body funded to make the UK more innovative: thanks for your doc that i received today. “the web2.0 magic is fading…” see you tomorrow.

Interesting … except I couldn’t recall sending the document, or the phase. I wished I had said it though, so investigated.

I’ve just done a bit of work with Roland’s Connect team on behalf of Justin Kirby, who feels NESTA’s ideas on Collaborative Innovation need more theoretical underpinning, and also distancing from the more extreme enthusiasts for social-media-changes-everything. Justin popped some references from me into a report, and added the great “magic is fading” line.

Anyway, the line – maybe meme – appeals to me because when working with nonprofit and other organisations I find there is an enormous gulf between their capability for adopting social media and what the enthusiasts say it will do – allegedly easily. When challenged, enthusiasts will add that, of course, it all depends on the situation, the mindsets, acquiring new skills … “oh and by the way have you seen this *really* coool app …”

I’ve just started another piece of work for NESTA on communication technologies and social change, so putting technology in its place is very much on my mind. More about that another time.

What was intriguing about Roland’s tweet was the way in which his quoting the phrase “The Web 2.0 magic is fading…” suddenly gave me a perspective on how to approach some of that work. It was a bit of shorthand for a hypothesis to test, a conversation opener, a headline blog post.

Way back when I was a print journalist I remember the aide to a Labour Minister giving me a briefing that measures to cut local government spending would soon be announced, saying “the party’s over”. That got me a front-page lead, and plenty of followups.

I’m not suggesting NESTA is saying anything like that to social media enthusiasts, and indeed I’m going along shortly to their place for Amplified08 , the first get-together for a new network of networks in the field. It’s events like this – often supported by NESTA – that have given me a host of ideas, mental energy and new friends over the past few years. It’s just that we need a balanced view, and I think Roland is perhaps emphasising that. Do take a look at his blog post outlining the model the Connect team are developing for thinking about a model for open innovation, building on earlier thoughts.

I’m hoping at Amplified08 to bump into Roland’s colleague Rohan Gunatillake, who Roland says in a comment here, is determined to “ungeek the whole scene”. Rohan leads the Web Connect strand within NESTA Connect which “explores the role the social web plays in disruptive innovation”. As they used to say in mainstream media, this story has legs.

Oh, and yes I did check, as a courtesy, with Roland if quoting the tweet was a fair thing to do. Go for it, he replied. Well, maybe using social media does change organisational culture, in the right hands.

For the ungeeks: Twitter explanation here

For geeks: 10 ways to ungeek


  • November 28, 2008 - 10:55 am | Permalink

    For me, social media, social networks, web 2.0 – whatever – already does a significant job on ungeeking. In fact, that’s the point of it.

    All the millions of people with Facebook profiles in effect have their own personal homepages. More so for those with blogs, or Flickr accounts.

    For the non-profit sector, these tools provide a amazing opportunity to develop sophisticated online presences for a remarkably low level of resourcing.

    Perhaps a change is in order in terms of getting less excited about new tools, and focusing more on application and how the new stuff can be blended with the other bits, both offline and older online tech like email.

  • November 28, 2008 - 11:16 am | Permalink

    Very thought-provoking post, and one that needs more discussion.

    Is this about geeks vs non-geeks? Or about old networks vs new networks? It’s easy to see technology as a dividing line, but every time a new technology/service comes along the main barrier to adoption is not learning it, but moving your list of contacts over.

    In a broader sense, have “geek” networks replaced/disrupted “non-geek” networks? (e.g. the split between on-line communities and off-line, local communities, and the ongoing attempt to re-unite the two.) Is “geek” just another word for “re-invention” and novelty, rather than evolution? The name “web 2.0” itself implies the death of the old, and the replacement with the new. Do we really need to come up with communities 2.0 or politics 2.0 to coincide?

    Maybe, in the end, this is about who’s in control of the technology, and which communities *they* belong to…?

  • November 28, 2008 - 11:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Dave – thanks for rising to the slight provocation! Absolutely agree with the “getting less excited about new tools … how the new stuff can be blended …”
    Trouble is, they are fun aren’t they. For the geeks anyway.

  • November 28, 2008 - 11:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks Graham … I met up Rohan at amplifiedo8 yesterday and have some great video from him about ungeeking which I’ll post in the next day or so. Meanwhile here’s something I did on another blog about World 1.0 and World 2.0

  • November 28, 2008 - 11:41 am | Permalink

    I got thinking about this David after our conversation at NESTA yesterday.

    It seems there is a story that runs a bit like this:

    >The old processes were broken (e.g. the particular way we were running conferences, organizational silos and hierarchies etc.)

    >Technologies showed us they were broken, and allowed some people to do without the old processes

    >This turn into a rejection of process, and an adoption of anything that can subvert structured process, or make structures very very light touch.

    But, whilst the old processes were broken, sometimes we do need to design and facilitate processes with more intentionality than goes on right now, rather than simply pushing against old ways of doing things.

    That involves less excitement about new tools, and more excitement about new groups getting involved. And more intentionality about the blended facilitation that engages those who were not the early-adopters of social technologies.

    Maybe the magic fading is no bad thing… as then we can start to see better what’s going on, and explore how we can make sure it really works in the interests of innovation and progress…

  • November 28, 2008 - 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Tim – your point about intentionality really resonates with me. We change from old ways to new, but can lose track of what we are trying to achieve in doing that. I thought Amplified 08 yesterday was great … but it seemed, at this stage, more process and tools than product to some purpose. Not problem in that, since people come together with a shared interest in news ways. What people do together next will be interesting. Networking, sure – but why? To amplify what?

  • November 28, 2008 - 2:08 pm | Permalink

    The networks are happening between the geeks and non geeks (is there not another term we can use?). Whether the ‘geeks’ are bored or whatever, the web has evolved to a point where it is now possible to engage meaningfully with the audience and push the benefits of using online stuff. These networks are also allowing people like me (kinda in between geek and non geek) to do more than ‘wish’ we had certain apps and services, and move into developing them, or at least trial them. So maybe the so-called magic has just moved to the next big change of internets, wherever and whenever that is. And when i feel a need to explore that, I will – fashionable or not.

  • November 28, 2008 - 5:06 pm | Permalink

    David – ‘Networking but why?’ ‘To amplify what?’. Those are definitely the key questions and the ones we’ve got to be sure not to loose sight of.

  • November 28, 2008 - 9:17 pm | Permalink

    The hype and more particularly, the elevated expectations of commercial translation and mass participation, may be fading …. but in my opinion the real magic is only just starting….

    Social networking makes people *happy*.

    Amplify, Tuttle, Tweetups… all about people connecting with people.

    My favourite description of online communities was by Russell Davies where he described blogging as ‘networking for shy people’, but ‘not in the horrible commercial sense of networking – serial small talk in the hope of opportunity – but the sort of networking that a village has, or a workplace, or a hobbyist club; like-minded people who help each other out, point each other at new like-minded people and generally see that what’s good for the network is probably good for them.’

    And that real stuff just seems to be be getting bigger and better…. Or that just me?

  • November 29, 2008 - 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Great post and I never expected my original tweet would provoke such discussion. In fact the discussion is far more detailed than my own musings on the subject.

    HAving said that, I think the web2.0 community (of which I slightly reluctantly would consider myself a peripheral member) is wonderful but not growing massively that I can see. Sure, most people have facebook profiles these days (which a lot of geeks now dismiss as being too slick and popular) and that is leading to some interesting phenomenon but generally speaking I think we’ve got a bit stuck. Also, harsh economic realities mean that perhaps we can’t afford to dream quite as much as we did 6 months ago. Then again, the appetite for new thinking and new ideas now appears stronger than ever so maybe web2.0 tools will come into their own in a recession.

    I loved Amplified08 but in many ways it examplified what I mean by this. The fact that sign up was via a wiki, excludes probably 98% of the population that have never editted a wiki and wouldn’t know how. However I think this ‘barrier to entry’ at Amplified or in 2nd life or any tech enabled community, is partially deliberate as it defines the community by those who tried hard enough to figure out how to get in.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of social technology and would like to use it more/better. I see the potential and want to see it ungeeked so we can have genuine mass participation. Anyway, I’m keen to hear Rohan’s musings as he’s thought more about this than me.

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