Web 2.0: The Rich Get Richer?

September 10th, 2008 · No Comments

I always enjoy Cory Doctorow so I was intrigued while I was reading a Chicago Tribune interview with him. He really kind of gives a “pat” answer to the question of the advantage of “first movers” in the current space.

But there are plenty of old blogs that are still being written whose popularity waned over the years. It takes more than just being first. First helps, but… And there are plenty of new blogs that do very well.

This made me wonder: Obviously there is still room for big offerings, but for a moderate sized site, is it too late to get involved in the Web 2.0 revolution?

Web 2.0

The term “Web 2.0” can mean different things to different people, but most people seem to agree that a pivotal point is collaboration and user-generated content. Hence the rise of sites such as Wikipedia and YouTube. This of course is a site owner’s dream come true. Not only are the site’s customers providing content for the site, but they consider it fabulous and empowering to do so.

So many of these sites are basically a framework put up by a very forward thinking mind who then lets other people generate a gold-mine. Obviously keeping these people in check and not letting them run amok is not a trivial problem. In essence this problem and this model is just an evolution of the Internet itself. The power that brought the Internet into the limelight was the reduction of barriers to entry, for good and bad.

Closing the Door
Too late to start building?

Too late to start building?

It is to some degree troubling to see the giants of the industry immediately begin making rules to make it hard to compete with them. One of the most noteworthy examples of this was (old news I know) Wikipedia’s shift to put “nofollow” tags on all its outbound links. Suddenly all the people who had volunteered time and information for their site had the terms of their deal shifted. They were suddenly getting one less benefit for their contribution (Pagerank) than they were before. Basically they’re saying that now that their users have made them the “standard,” they can retroactively make their part of the bargain less valuable and offer less in the future.

A more insidious result of the “nofollow” proliferation is that it has helped people realize the value of their links. People are much more reluctant to link to someone now, not only because they are giving away something of value, but because it seems it can potentially damage your Pagerank. So now that everyone knows their links are valuable the people who already have them can decide who gets into the party. If you have a Pagerank 6 you can basically dole out success. Moreover in the process you are probably getting something back that will continue to help keep you in that position.

Is The Door Closed?

So is it all pointless? Is the idea of a grassroots, DIY website empire dead before we’ve even started. I tend to think we’ve got quite a while before that happens and it may never happen. Much like in “real” markets, when people get powerful, they get lazy and inefficient. Nevertheless I do feel that the egalitarian nature of the Internet has been somewhat diminished by the dominance of certain players. It’s also made it a tougher challenge and, therefore, a better game.

Categories: Theory

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