Web 2.0 is People!

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In principle I agree with Chris Anderson’s blog about The Awesome Power of Spare Cycles although his incidental analogy of Web 2.0 principles and applications to Soylent Green caused me to stop reading for a moment to consider what it was he was intentionally or unintentionally saying.

In the film, Charlton Heston discovers that Soylent Green, a subsidized food ration, is composed of the recycled bodies of people who participated in a government-sponsored euthanasia program aimed at reducing overpopulation. The film ends with Charlton Heston bellowing his now culturally infamous revelation, “Soylent Green is People!”

Taken at face value, the reference was probably nothing more than pop culture throw away line in an otherwise perceptive analysis of untapped potential and energy in organizations. The quintessential message though in the film (and the book by Harry Harrison titled Make Room! Make Room! ) was that the world had become so overpopulated that people were voluntarily committing suicide after which they were being turned into food to feed the remaining populace.

So, Web 2.0 is People! It’s the collaborative global byproduct of Spare Cycles. It’s the tapped previously untapped energy of organizational and individual ennui. My objection is that the examples that Chris uses to support his Spare Cycles theory by and large have little to no business application. MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and Second Life? Do you organizations want their employees participating in these communities on company time? A cyberstalker? My guess is that regardless of her job responsibilities she would have found the time to stalk the lead singer of Linkin Park. A Sheriff at a regional airport watching a movie on a portable DVD? Mr. Anderson said himself that flights were taking off at the rate of one an hour so if the movie was a result of spare cycles, what should the Sheriff had been doing and how does Web 2.0 apply?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the internet could experience an overpopulation problem, but there is a numbers problem that feeds the momentum that web 2.0 continues to gather. For example Technorati claims the Blogosphere has 71 millions blogs yet in reality the number is closer to 15 million. This type of statistical hyperbole is the Soylent Green of Web 2.0. The populace is fed numbers inflated with millions of dead or inactive accounts which in turn drives those not yet participating in web 2.0 to take a nibble to see if they like the taste. Even if they create a MySpace profile, a Twitter account and a Tumbleblog then give up on them, their accounts feed the numbers which feeds the hype which feeds the people.

I know I sound cynical, but in truth I too see the potential in Web 2.0 to create collaborative environments, global communities of co-creation and platforms of engagement, but it’s not enough to say that the presence of Web. 2.0 technologies is the answer to spare cycles and untapped energy and potential. How will it create meaningful work? How will it engage an apathetic workforce? How will it tap the energy that exists in organizations?

For all the potential that Web 2.0 possesses it alone will not end spare cycles while bringing down the walls blocking co-creation to the degree necessary for 21st Century success. Whereas collaborative software and approaches, peer-to-peer platforms and social networking tools can create new spaces to dialogue and co-create, without an inclusive mindset and behaviors, the “old” behaviors and spare cycles will just form in this new technology container.

If we aren’t careful with how we use, promote and encourage the use of Web 2.0 technology organizations may someday be overrun with people finding outlets for their spare cycles by posting their pictures on Flickr, updating their MySpace Profile and watching videos all day on YouTube instead of playing Solitaire. And from these organizations there will echo the collective outcry of, “You Maniacs! You blew it up. Damn You!” Sorry, wrong Charlton Heston film.

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