Sunday, March 14, 2010

Web 2.0 is like Yeast: Rampant Growth Possible

I'm preparing a talk and this New York Times interview I found with Andrey Turnovskiy, age 17!!!, exquisitely and quickly explains the components that make Web 2.0 a force to be reckoned with.

Let's deconstruct parts of the interview quickly. I've put it in BOLD so I don't get int trouble about attribution.

Have you always wanted to be a programmer?
No, actually I had no interest in being a programmer. I was always interested in language, I studied English and Chinese and I hoped to be a translator. Then I got a computer and saw that you could write code, so I decided to try it.

How long did it take to build?
It took me three days. I built it on an old computer I had in my bedroom.

First point: we now have the tools available that enable people with little money and discrete skills to build things quickly and try them out. I think of these as "platforms for engagement." They dramatically reduce barriers to entry. Governments should be doing what they can to make sure these platforms exist. This is why I'm advocating open source, open data, open standards, internet protocol, open devices, and open networks for things built with taxpayer money.

Then what happened?
Well, at first I showed it to my friends and they criticized it; they asked why anyone would want to use it. So I went onto a few Web forums and asked people to try the site, and I got 20 people to try it.

He persisted even though people who theoretically knew better thought it was a stupid idea.

How many users do you have now?
Well, after the initial 20 users the site doubled and it continued to double every day since then. Last month [5 months in] I saw 30 million unique visitors come to the Web site and one million new people visit each day. It continues to multiply and I just couldn’t stop it from growing.

I would love to see that growth chart! But if you double every day, starting day one with 20 people, it takes 3 weeks to get to 30 million unique visitors (okay, so ChatRoulette didn't actually double every single day).

Remember that this success was totally unpredictable. This is one of the key reasons we (as a society, company, individual) need to make sure we have made room for easy experimentation and iteration. For every ChatRoulette, there are no doubt hundreds (thousands) of failed experiments. But if you don't open yourself (your company, your country) up to innovation, others will and will pass you by.

Lastly, recognize that the growth was possible thanks to other platforms -- the internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, wired and wireless communications -- that already exist, that make telling your friends really easy and fast. See Clay Shirky's book "Here Comes Everybody."

This speed and scale of adoption of new ideas and behaviors -- newly made possible by the internet and associated technologies -- is what gives me hope about our ability to solve the most terrifying and intractable problems this world faces.

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