FAQ: Web 2.0 collaboration

Your privacy, responsibility and intellectual property questions answered

Why is collaboration important to Web 2.0?

Collaboration and the ability to collaborate -- the "architecture of participation," as some call it -- are central to Web 2.0 and intrinsic to the technologies that make it tick, as Web content becomes more likely to be a product of multiple sources and developed over a longer span of time. (Traditional Web pages, in contrast, tended to go up and stay up.) That, in turn, leads to some fundamental rethinking of issues such as privacy, responsibility and ownership of intellectual property.

Isn't collaboration an invitation for irresponsibility?

It can be, and even some of the most committed Web 2.0 sites have grappled with the desirability of flushing some folks out of the system. Most recently, a high-profile scandal erupted at Wikipedia when contributor "Essjay" was revealed to be not the professor of theology he claimed to be but a 24-year-old college dropout.

That said, reputation on many Web 2.0 sites is derived not from credentials but from activity on the site itself. On sites such as Digg and Slashdot, reputation or karma is based on the quality -- and to a leser extent, the number -- of one's contributions. On eBay, Amazon.com and other e-commerce sites, users rate and review individual transactions. Hit-and-run misbehavior still occurs, but regular good behavior certainly has its reward for regular users of a given system.

What does all this mean for privacy?

A shift, certainly -- one that makes many longtime privacy advocates nervous. As users maintain presences on multiple Web sites (a MySpace.com profile, the occasional Craigslist post, comments on others' blogs, a shopping history on iTunes), the potential grows to cobble together a remarkably full picture of a person's life.

And a great many users, particularly younger users, don't worry too much about that. Some employers have expressed horror at the amount of very personal information one can find online about applicants who have spent their entire lives taking participation on IM, MySpace and so forth for granted. Others are vaguely perplexed by services such as Dodgeball and Twitter.com, which allow members of your circle of friends to update one another on their whereabouts at all times via mobile phone.

The changing concept of personal privacy is sometimes thought to go in tandem with the rise of everyone's-a-celebrity culture; perhaps when phenomena such as American Idol and other reality shows fade, minds will change again -- though alas, a generation is apt to learn that information doesn't easily move from public status to private.

What does all this mean for intellectual property?

Employment for many lawyers and uproar all around the table. Interoperability and open standards are hallmarks of most Web 2.0 thinking. Established media companies, however, take exception to adding their properties into the mixing pot. Copyright, digital rights management, file sharing, Net neutrality -- name a tech controversy, and Web 2.0's near the heart of it.

A number of artists, scientists and other creative types have made a point of putting material online with Creative Commons licenses that specifically allow other folk to use them in mashups, research or other projects. The Wikimedia Commons is similar, but it accepts only multimedia material that is free content (public domain or not limited by any sort of licensing restriction).

What are mashups?

A mashup is a type of composite application that combines data from more than one source. The term was first popularized in music, a mashup in that context being a song that combines elements of more than one other song (a lyrics track from Song A, a slightly sped-up rhythm track from Song B and so on). The data is gathered from each source via application programming interface (API), XML feed, screenscraping or other methods.

You've probably used a mashup already, but Webmashup.com provides a directory of examples along with APIs and news on mashup-related news. For more in-depth information on mashup development, ProgrammableWeb is a fine resource.

Why would anyone consent to have their site/song/maps/video mashed up?

Some welcome it. A number of Web 2.0 concerns have published APIs to facilitate the process.

What's the deal with wikis? Aren't they collaborative?

Yes, very. And they're also a publishing mechanism, which is why they're covered in the Web 2.0 publishing FAQ.

Am I crazy or does the number 43 turn up in the name of a lot of Web 2.0-related collaboration sites?

Not crazy. It's a Getting Things Done meme -- the time-management book recommends keeping 43 to-do folders, one for each month and then 31 for each day of one month. GTD is big with many Web 2.0 types. Sites inspired thus include 43 Things43 Folders43 People43 Places, and (simply enough) 43.

Return to the main Web 2.0 FAQ.

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