What's after Web 2.0? You. In 3D.

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Many avatars of faces


We recently sat down with Dr. Tony O'Driscoll, co-author of the book Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration, to talk about avatar-based Internet communities like SecondLife. Here's what he had to say about the way the Internet has evolved—and the business and industry culture changes that are happening as a result.

Tony O'Driscoll: The book essentially explores the evolution of the web through three incarnations. The first incarnation, Web 1.0, was all about connecting “to” the web. The second incarnation, Web 2.0, was about connecting “through” the web. And the third incarnation, Immernet, just now emerging is about connecting “within” the web.

With the first incarnation of the web, individuals leveraged the browser interface to connect to the web to access information. In essence, browser technology democratized “access to” the web, and people leveraged this access to do things like manage their bank account, send each other e-mail, buy stocks or plan travel.

Remember Napster, the online music file sharing service? Napster serves as a bridge between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0—the participatory “read-write” web. Suddenly, instead of traveling to a record store to buy a physical piece of media (a CD or cassette), people instantly downloaded an MP3 music file from the web. Users took advantage of the all-but-unenforceable illegality of peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to share music collections for free. Napster disrupted the existing value chain of the music industry at its core.

The second incarnation of the web moved beyond access and focused on the democratization of participation. During the Web 2.0 wave, the focus shifted from connecting people “to” the web to enabling people to connect “through” the web to share, participate, and collaborate.

In September of 2008, Nielsen reported that MySpace had fifty-nine million users and Facebook had thirty-nine million. Less than one year later, MySpace had ballooned to 300 million users and Facebook  276 million. To put this in context, if MySpace and Facebook were viewed as virtual countries where users reside, MySpace would be the fifth largest country in the world and Facebook, the sixth.

Today's Internet users share media—in quantity. Each day about 9,000 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube. If you aggregated all the programming from the three primary networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) for the past sixty years, you'd get a total of 1.5 million hours of video programming. That's less than six months' worth of the video content submitted to YouTube.

As a platform, YouTube provides a user-generated alternative to the enterprise studio and broadcast approaches for media access and distribution. In short, with the arrival of Web 2.0 technologies that enable users to share, participate, and collaborate, we are witnessing a redefinition of how the media and entertainment industry develops and distributes content. This shift brings with it the need for a redefinition in the industry’s enterprise structure and business model to address the threat of the user generated content.

As we move into the next wave of the Internet evolution, we observe a continuing trend in the creation of economic platforms that cultivate new forms of innovative co-creation, leading to different forms of wealth creation for those who choose to participate.

In the case of Wikipedia, the task that was outsourced to Internet users was the creation of the world’s largest encyclopedia. In the past seven years Wikipedia has grown to twelve million articles written collaboratively by volunteers around the world.

Today, the web is in the midst of a migration from the traditional two-dimensional web browser interface to a three-dimensional one. Just as the introduction of the Mosaic browser changed society and business, the impending transformation of the Internet from a static, one-way conduit of information into a three-dimensional virtual environment in which people—as avatars—live, work, and play will have an equally significant transformational impact.

To my way of thinking this is just a logical extension of the open and participatory culture that has permeated the second incarnation of the web. But it will be even better, because interactivity and immersion create a multiplier effect on engagement.

If you consider how the web has evolved over the past 5,000 days, it is clear it's becoming a catalyst for communities who are sharing, collaborating, co-creating, and innovating on a scale never witnessed before. In a world where there are open and free alternatives for coordination, enterprises would do well to better understand what motivates people to participate in these communities and how they should tune their own networks of expertise to align with the principles of openness and transparency that the web offers.


Tony O'Driscoll is a Professor of the Practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business where he also serves as Executive Director of Fuqua’s Center for IT and Media, a research center dedicated to understanding the strategic, structural, operational, and business model issues associated with these vibrant and volatile sectors. Tony was a founding member of IBM Global Service’s Strategy and Change consulting practice, where he consulted with business leaders around the world on how to best leverage technology to create sustainable competitive advantage in an increasingly global, networked, and knowledge-enabled economy.

Rebecca Fernandez is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat, leading projects to help the company scale its open culture. She's an Open Organization Ambassador, contributed to The Open Organization book, and maintains the Open Decision Framework. She is interested in the intersection of open source principles and practices, and how they can transform organizations for the better.

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