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Web 2.0: Culture, Belief System, or Tool-Kit?

Part of the issue with the emergence of Web 2.0, and the reactions to, for, and against it, may be that everyone is working with their own definitions. Advocates are often passionate about it, urging immediate and unilateral adoption. Skeptics raise a litany of questions and objections. Those, in the middle may find themselves in the role of the ball in a ping-pong game, smashed this way, only to be backhanded in the opposite direction.

Just what is Web 2.0, and will it be surpassed by Web Y.0 or Web Z.0 by the time this article hits the air?


Is Web 2.0 a culture--a way of life? If you think you know what culture is (and is not) and can define it, I challenge you to visit the Wikipedia definition of culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

There are many competing theories of culture and many diverse perspectives that are held by anthropologists (who commonly use the term "culture" to refer to the universal human capacity to classify, codify, and communicate their experiences symbolically). primatologists (who have identified aspects of culture among humankind's closest relatives in the animal kingdom), archaeologists (who focus on material culture--the material remains of human activity), social anthropologists (who focus on social interactions, statuses and institutions), and cultural anthropologists (who focus on norms and values).

According to the current (2/9/08) Wikipedia definition, “Culture can be defined as all the behaviors, ways of life, arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the arts and gastronomy.”

So is Web 2.0 a culture? It certainly manifests certain behaviors, even ways of life and beliefs. It has hardly been passed down from generation to generation. Given the short life cycle of technology, it is highly likely to be surpassed by Web 3.0, or something else, in a very short period, just as Web 1.0 has been eclipsed.

Belief System

Is Web 2.0 a belief system? Wikipedia defines belief as: “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise (argument) to be true without necessarily being able to adequately prove its main contention to other people who may or may not agree.” Based on the ardent writing of those who advocate Web 2.0, we may certainly say that Web 2.0 is strongly held belief system.

The fact that much of the writing in support of Web 2.0 (at least that I have seen) has not yet focused convincingly on either “how” best to use Web 2.0 (a distinctive value-producing strategy), nor the likely outcomes (results that may be achieved through successful use of Web 2.0), does not diminish the passionate belief of the early adopters of Web 2.0. The fact that early adopters have little patience with those who ask for more quantifiable data further reinforces the view that Web 2.0 is, indeed, a belief system.

Tool Kit

There is another possibility: that Web 2.0 (and the predictable successors) is simply a tool-kit, full of different tools for different users for different purposes. That is, Web 2.0 is not the desired end-solution; it is a means to the end—however defined for a particular user of Web 2.0

For example, is a wiki or a blog a culture, belief system, or tools in the tool bag? One’s perspective depends on where one stands, of course, but there is no denying that if knowledge growth and exchange of knowledge are the desired solutions, then a wiki and/or a blog may be useful tools, correctly and intelligently employed. At least today. Who can say what may be more effective tools to achieve these results tomorrow? Nevertheless, there will surely be newer and more effective tools to come.

Even the best and most appropriate tool for a task, however, still requires good experience and judgment for successful use. Ever watched a first-timer try to install cove molding with a compound miter saw?

Web 2.0: culture, belief system, or tool-kit? Where do you stand and what is your perspective?



Thank you for bringing this up. I think we really need to define this for ourselves as association executives. I can't wait to read the responses.

The definition resonating with me is that Web 2.0 is not a set of tools...it's a way of thinking about how you interact with your audience through the Internet. We're not talking TO people anymore...we're talking WITH them. That's the shift.

Thanks, Lindy. One of the problems with blogs and 2-way communication is that, in many cases, the comments are not part of the feed. Thus, it's very hard and time-consuming to follow them. I've read where some bloggers say they pay little attention to comments. So where does that leave us?

I've found that referring to "web 2.0" as a set of tools does two things. First, it helps focus the discussion on what the tools do and whether there are real benefits. Second, it helps focus the discussion away from unproductive general discussions of culture change, control, and organizational transparency. Such discussions are not irrelevant but when they occur without the benefit of firsthand experience they tend to deflect the discussion into the realm of theory not practice. That's one of the reasons that discussing the practical benefits of using web 2.0 tools for (among other things) reducing email and meetings can be beneficial.

While it may ultimately be a culture, I'm with Dennis in that focusing on Web 2.0 as a set of tools is the practical answer. And I do think it mostly is a set of tools that can be used to further a belief system or culture.

As you point out, Virgil, when the tool, such as a blog, is not used to promote transparency, dialog, interaction, all those Web 2.0-y things, it's really just like a hammer being used to screw in a lightbulb--the wrong tool for the job of one-way communication, and one that can not only not fix the problem, but one that actually can make it worse.

I guess you have to separate the actual tools--blogs, wikis, etc.--from the Web 2.0 philosophy or world-view (to add a couple more ways of looking at it to the mix). The tools can be used to promote it, or not. If that makes any sense.

I ran across this today -- visualization of the communication intersection among the various groups within a company via collaboration tools:


I post this here not because the author Sam Lawrence works for Jive Software a client of mine (he does) but because this type of representation gets at some of the practical tool-related issues that surround the use of "web 2.0" tools.

Imagine if you could providing your association members with tools for collaboration that would help them to work together and communicate about common problems. Imagine also the possibility of seeing what they are communicating about via a representation such as Sam provides here. (I've seen other companies provide such analytics for customers but Sam's post is one of the first I've seen published).

I can think of all sorts of criticisms about such a visualization of member-to-member or member-staff communication related to politics, privacy, etc. etc. etc. But seeing analytics like this, it seems to me, inevitably stimulate questions like, "groups X and Y are communicating an awful lot about Topic Z but we don't even have Topic Z on our agenda this year. Shouldn't we be doing something about it?"

Hey guys...I think Virgil helps the "way of thinking" argument when he notes that "in many cases, the comments are not part of the feed. Thus, it's very hard and time-consuming to follow them. I've read where some bloggers say they pay little attention to comments. So where does that leave us?"

That's a shortcoming of a Web 2.0 tool that can be overcome by the right kind of Web 2.0 thinking. Andy Steggles' solution for RIMS of a hybrid listserve/forum platform comes to mind. He's built an integrated Web 2.0 tool that addresses the needs of his community...and isn't that what Web 2.0 is really all about?


You can make the case (the data shows it) that we are in a transcendent period where organizational culture, product development, governance, and content development/consumption is changing.

Web 2.0 helped this along.

Coined as a term by Tim O'Reilly a few years back, it was popularized not only as a "tool set" but also a "strategy" which brought us the LongTail Theory that Amazon, NetFlix and others have done so well to showcase.

But for any organization today be it non-profit, for-profit,etc - the more important trend that Web 2.0 has helped to accelerate is the rise of the notion of the "citizen producer" of personal content, products or services. Now anyone has the "power to associate" or to self-determine how their personal time and creativity is spent.

Together with the massive impact of changes in demographic preferences for how people want to create, collaborate and consume online, and you have conditions that have and will change the dynamics of how we manage businesses.

Everyone knows that we all have different learning preferences. Turns out this is true in an online world too concerning creating, collaborating or consuming content online.

Thanks to Forrester Research for showing us the data.


Thanks, Peter--and to all who have commented so far. I find this a very useful conversation, that helps bring some common understanding of what we are seeing, and hearing, about Web 2.0., Just as important, I think the conversation helps in the understanding of how we might successfully consider and communicate Web 2.0 in our respective organizational situations.

I hope others will jump in with their thoughts about "what" and "how".

Stimulating discussion. It seems to me that Web 2.0 is providing the tools to acomplish rapid knowledge transfer and rapid learning. When one shares their knowledge it is not really sucessfully transferred until the receiver can adequately use that knowledge, so there is a depth of understanding required when a topic or best practice is shared. The Web 2.0 environment can facilitate introducing individuls with various slants on a subject allowing a fuller understanding of the variables and inherent traps. There is a requirement, however, to validate the knowledge gained as valid. This is more easily gained through "known/proven sources" that have proved to be reliable in the past and gained your trust. The cultural aspects of specific communities will evolve to generate the rules of behavior, ethics and recognition, but different communities will havwe different rules.

It's an evolving process - based on the core (Ideas That Stick) belief that we can accomplish more together than apart.

Kudos on another thoughtful post
- Kare Anderson,http://www.movingfrommetowe.com/category/meetings/

For those of you who haven't seen professor Michael Wesch's YouTube video illustrating his stance on the evolution of the web I suggest a look:

I strongly believe Web 2.0 is a tool-kit that allows us to get closer to the connected culture we are all searching for.

I'm just glad I'll get to look back and say that I was on the forefront watching human nature evolve and adopt these tools.

IMHO web 2.0 and beyond encompasses all three, beliefs, tool kits and cultures. However its appeal is representative of the problems with our existing cultures, beliefs and tool kits.

The web is merely the backbone that enables conversational rivers to flow deep and wide touching relationships of affinity. It is the "expressions and conversations that stir the engagement for others to "jump into the conversation rivers" and try to make meaning out of anything and everything.

The meaning become the basis of shared knowledge, experiences and relations. It is from all of this that we're creating "virtual cultures at the intersection of technology and human behavior".

Oh well, just an opinion

Some of you new media lovers may take offense at the crassness of my definition for Web 2.0, but to me it simply means not having to pay for content.

If you take a trip in the way back machine to Web 1.0, Associations had to pay staff, ask/beg members, or hire freelancers to write and manage the content on their websites. Today, you let the members do all the work for free, they feel involved, you get to put your finger on the current pulse of members' needs and desires, and your site is always updated and fresh. All without doing any work, other than building the framework and monitoring the conversations.

It's a sweet deal. Perhaps, the greatest membership swindle of all time.

I agree with Chris - fundamentally an association could come off smelling like a rose improve member engagement while spending less money on programs, staff, you name it. Or, it could turn around a sinking ship and bring tons of resources back in for reinvestment. Problem is the whole paradigm scares the crud out of too many assns' leadership -- staff and volunteer. These groups won't be able to realize these gains and they will be become irrelevant pretty fast because the for-profits will eat their lunch providing the same value proposition for free or close to it.

Perhaps it's a toolkit that will evolve into a culture? Right now it feels more like a toolkit that I get to play with and try out. It's like the first time I sat down at a IBM Seletric (yep I'm aging myself!) and learned how I could "save" my work for proofing and then change fonts in two simple steps. It was a new tool that prompted a new way of working. It was the way it ultimately changed how I approached my writing and editing. The way it increased by willingness for collaboration on a piece even after it was run out.

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