What is it you do, again?

I’m often asked to give a brief definition of Next Generation Internet, since it is in my job title. Unfortunately, that can be a bit challenging, because it’s really a combination of a number of different fundamental changes all occuring in parallel:

  • The architecture of participation, and the increased user expectations it is driving,
  • The rich interfaces provided by Ajax and related technologies,
  • The composition of applications from services, whether as full-blown SOA or simple Mashup

These three major trends fit together very well with Optaros’ overall mission of helping enterprises  meet business needs by leveraging open source software and an assembly-based methodology.

Recently a few very good presentations / articles have appeared that should help make this easier for me to explain and for all of us to understand.

Rise of the Participation Culture

Rise of the Participation CultureThe first is a report, from Steve Borsch and the folks at Connecting the Dots, called Rise of the Participation Culture. It’s available in an html version for reading online as well as in a PDF format (5.9MB) for printing or reading offline, under a creative commons attribution license.

There’s nothing radical or revolutionary about the content it presents, but it provides a very good high level overview for the uninitiated, while managing to neither oversimplify or bore the initiated. Definitely a good “Participation 101” with quick coverage of RSS, Microformats, Ajax, Mashups, Wikis, Blogs, REST and Web Services, Syndication and Aggregation, Social Networking, Collaborative Applications, User Contributed Content, etc.

Recognizing Web 2.0

The second is a presentation by Kevin Yank from Site Point on “Recognizing Web 2.0: A Plain English Guide” (The ppt and the audio are both available from that page).

Yank covers some of the same ground as the other report, but in a much more developer oriented, insider fashion – much of his audience is folks who consider themselves developers and technical folks. His basic outline includes:

  • Sites as Applications
  • Participation and the Wisdom of Crowds
    • The Long Tail
    • Folksonomy
    • Blogging
  • Open Data & Services
    • Feeds
    • Microformats
    • APIs
    • Mashups

He also shows a number of examples: usual suspects like Google Maps, Zimbra, Wikipedia, Digg, del.icio.us, flickr – as well as some less familiar ones: blogbridge, applefritter, overplot.

Web 2.0 is not just a buzzword

Finally, Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users makes an interesting point about insider language, jargon, and the formation of communities of knowledge in Why Web 2.0 is more than a buzzword.

She draws a distinction between “buzzwords” and “jargon” in the context of people who would like to say that “Web 2.0” is a meaningless term:

But to say it means nothing (or WORSE–to say it’s just a marketing label) is to mistake jargon (good) for buzzwords (bad). Where buzzwords are used to impress or mislead, jargon is used to communicate more efficiently and interestingly with others who share a similar level of knowledge and skills in a specific area.

In other words, while people do still tend to think of “jargon” as a pejorative term, it is to a very large degree a necessary part of building a community of knowledge around a given subject. Professionals in any given discipline (or, perhaps more to the point, passionate amateurs in any domain) always develop an insider language. Not because they want to be elitist (or not just because they want to be elitist) but because it is a natural outgrowth of a set of shared experiences and knowledge.

In trying to build communities, we should not aim for a kind of least-common-denominator language that avoids all jargon, because that will always run up against the need for more specialized language as the subject’s complexity demands. Or, as Sierra puts it:

Not only should we allow domain-specific jargon or expert-speak, we should be driving it! We should help invent short-cuts and specialized words and phrases to make communication among our most passionate–our experts–even more stimulating and useful.

That’s not to say, of course, that experts inside a given discourse community shouldn’t try, with some percentage of their time, and in appropriate forums, to explain those insider terms to those outside – just that experts can’t do so all the time.

Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about how difficult it can be to explain concepts like “Web 2.0” or “Next Generation Internet” to the person next to me on the plane, before their eyes glaze over and they look at me like I’m talking in ones and zeroes. (Whenever I get too deep into tech jargon my wife starts to say “One, Zero, Zero one one. Zero zero. one zero one” until I stop.)