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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Internet Tools, Web2.0, and the new Community

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Since the dawn of the Web we've struggled to find useful information from amongst the flotsam of irrelevant websites. The first torchbearers to guide us through this mess were search engines, tracing their lineage to the pre-Web Internet. The modern age has sprouted a new generation of tools and services which depend on the collaborative force of diverse users. Collectively, these advancements are being referred to as Web 2.0. Some of the more sucessful manifestations of this ideal include Wikipedia, blogs,, flickr, StumbleUpon, Freecyle, and Slashdot.

These sites broadly fall into two camps: (1) 'Web Finders' deliver up relevant Web pages. Examples are Google,, and StumbleUpon; (2) 'Web Tools' are Internet resources which provide a useful service. Examples are Wikipedia, flickr, and Slashdot. Naturally, there is a certain ambiguity. Slashdot could fall into either of the two camps.

Many of the above examples will be familiar to the majority of users. I'll illustrate Web Finders and Web Tools with two lesser-known examples from each group:


Traditional search engines suffer from one major drawback - they can only show you what you're looking for. In the words of Pablo Picasso, "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers".

We've all had the experience of being alerted to a cool website by a friend or a magazine. The type of website we never would have found by googling for 'cool website'. The point is that we all have a different notion of what is cool. There cannot be a canonical list of great sites that would suit all tastes.

Coming to our rescue is StumbleUpon. You mark the sites you like and those that you don't. Based on your personal preferences, StumbleUpon will suggest sites which like-minded Stumblers enjoy. A simple idea brilliantly executed.


Freecycle is a great example of a global technology acting on a local level. In a sense, it is a marketplace for free goods, bringing together people with things to give away and people in need of those items. I belong to my local freecycle group in Oxford, England. As I'm without a car, Freecycle is a great way for me to get rid of unwanted possessions! When I have material needs you can be sure that Freecycle will be my first port of call.


In all cases, the new breed of websites make positive use of community spirit. In our modern age of nuclear families and increasing alienation, it is as though the Web has stepped into the breach to create new communities of like-minded individuals. Each such community carves out its own slice of the Internet, adding order and cohesion where once there was chaos.

For the moment social networking is in the ascendency, but the one certain truth about the Internet is change. It is unlikely that social networking will disappear, but it will ultimately transform into something else. The leaders of tomorrow's Net will be at the helm of this change.


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