User 2.0

Before I get into the point of this posting, I’d first like to apologize for the blatant abuse of the whole “2.0” label. I think I’ve subconsciously translated “2.0” to “new perspective.”
Now that we’ve gotten the disclaimers out of the way, I wanted to share some thoughts on technology today and how it reflects on our perception of users, and people in general.
One of the often heard tenets of Web 2.0 is that it brings a whole new social aspect to applications. Folksonomies (or social classifications) and wikis are two great examples of how we can leverage all that extra collective Good that we have laying around. In short, this stuff is good and doesn’t break down because most people are, well…good.
Why isn’t Wikipedia filled with junk and graffiti? Why aren’t tags misleading and useless? It’s because we’re all mostly good people who mean well.
To this I say: bullshit.
Ok. I don’t really mean “bullshit” per se. I’m not trying to insinuate that we are all in fact bad or selfish or anything of the sort. The counter-sentiment I’d like to put forth is the following:
The cumulative social benefits of Web 2.0 applications are simply a byproduct of useful software that meets their own selfish needs.
We tag sites on delicious because it’s a useful way to keep bookmarks centralized and easily organized. We use Flickr for similar reasons. It stores our photos and allows us to tag them for quick and easy retrieval. Wikis are sort of a different beast. I think we just like to be heard and feel important (not a bad thing by the way).
What’s so curiously cool about these applications is they piggyback our own selfish needs to create this larger collective consciousness – sort of.
For the product managers and interaction designers, the real trick is to build stuff that is wortwhile for users personally, but somehow creates something greater than the sum for everyone else. The bigger the personal payoff, the more we’re willing to give to get it. The more we give, the more these systems can learn. The more they learn, the richer the body of knowledge for all to benefit from. All we, the technologists, need to do is keep the valuable software coming and, more importantly, pay closer attention to what users are doing.
If we were to believe the idealists, you’d think users wouldn’t mind spending their valuable time contributing metadata to the Greater Knowledgebase of Mankind. Not so. Only within the confines of immediate and personal gratification lies the greater good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *