Web Content by and for the Masses
SAN FRANCISCO, June 28 – When Caterina Fake arrives at
the end of a plane flight, she snaps a photo of the baggage carousel
with her camera phone to assure her mother, who views the photo on a
Web page minutes later, that she has traveled safely.
And if every picture tells a
story, that may be only the start. At Flickr, the popular Web
photo-sharing service where Ms. Fake, a co-founder, posted the photo,
it can be tagged with geographic coordinates for use in a photographic
map, or become part of a communal database of images that can be
searched for certain colors or characteristics.
Flickr, acquired this year by Yahoo,
is just one example of a rapidly growing array of Web services all
seeking to exploit the Internet’s power to bring people together.
photo- and calendar-sharing services to "citizen journalist" sites and
annotated satellite images, the Internet is morphing yet again. A
remarkable array of software systems makes it simple to share anything
instantly, and sometimes enhance it along the way.
create and worldwide in reach, the new Internet services are having an
impact far beyond the file sharing at issue in the Supreme Court’s
decision on Monday, which focused on copyright violations using
Indeed, the abundance of user-generated
content – which includes online games, desktop video and citizen
journalism sites – is reshaping the debate over file sharing. Many
Internet industry executives think it poses a new kind of threat to
Hollywood, the recording industry and other purveyors of proprietary
content: not piracy of their work, but a compelling alternative.
new services offer a bottom-up creative process that is shifting the
flow of information away from a one-way broadcast or publishing model,
giving rise to a wave of new business ventures and touching off a
scramble by media and technology companies to respond.
will be everywhere," said Jeff Weiner, a Yahoo senior vice president in
charge of the company’s search services. "It’s the next chapter of the World Wide Web."
In its race to catch up with the search-engine leader Google,
Yahoo is turning to just such a shared resource: the wisdom of friends
and business associates. On Tuesday, Yahoo introduced My Web 2.0, a new
version of the company’s search engine that will harness the collective
power of small groups of Web surfers to improve the quality of search
The service, which the company’s executives refer to as
a "social search engine," is based on a new page-ranking technology
that Yahoo has named MyRank. Rather than relying on which pages are
linked to most frequently on the Web – the so-called Page Rank
technology pioneered by Google – MyRank organizes pages based on how
closely search users are related to one another in their social network
and on their reputation for turning up helpful information.
Web 2.0 allows Web pages found useful by one member of a group to be
instantly accessible to a network of trusted associates and to their
network contacts as well. The service, Yahoo executives hope, will
combat the growing problem of search-engine manipulation by using a
collection of human eyes and minds to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Yahoo is not alone in looking for ways to take advantage of digital content created at the grass roots. This month, Microsoft
said it would add a content-subscription feature known as R.S.S., or
Really Simple Syndication, to its software in an effort to take
advantage of the explosion of user-created material. Apple Computer began offering a similar feature in the newest version of its Macintosh operating systems earlier this year.
"We are now entering the participation age," Jonathan I. Schwartz, the president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems,
said on Monday at an industry conference in San Francisco. "The really
interesting thing about the network today is that individuals are
starting to participate. The endpoints are starting to inform the
And the announcements keep coming. On Tuesday, Google
said it would make available a free version of its Google Earth
software program that permits users to view high-resolution digital
imagery of the entire planet. A feature of the service will be the
ability of user communities to annotate digital images to make them
Other early examples include a user-created map of
London overlayed on a schematic of the city’s subway system, and a link
between Google Maps and the apartment rental and real estate listings
of Craigslist, making it easy to visualize where rentals are in
neighborhoods or entire cities.
"It’s beyond what is possible
with individual effort, but once it’s there, millions of people will
have a tremendous impact," said John Hanke, the general manager of
Google’s satellite imaging group. "We have built this common ground
that other people can leverage."
Many Internet developers think that the Internet’s new phase will
shift power away from old-line media and software companies while
rapidly bringing about an age of computerized "augmentation" by
blending the skills of tens of thousands of individuals.
"The giant brain is us," said
Peter Hirshberg, a former Apple Computer executive who recently joined
Technorati, a service based in San Francisco that indexes more than 11
million Web logs. His reference is to the 1960’s fear that computers
would emerge as omniscient artificial intelligences that would control
society. Instead, he said, the Internet is now making it possible to
exploit collective intellectual power of Internet users efficiently and
While Hollywood studios have generally scoffed at
competition from amateurs, the most striking example of user-generated
content may come from Spore, an online game being developed by Will
Wright, the developer of the Sims series of video games.
scheduled for release next year, will incorporate a variety of software
tools that let users "evolve" a civilization. Rather than a massively
multiplayer game, the current fashion in online role playing, it will
be a "massively single player" game.
Although they will all be
connected by the Internet, game players will not interact with one
another, but rather with the civilizations that other players have
evolved. The entertainment value will be in exploring civilizations
created by other players and interacting with characters controlled by
Spore is intended to appeal to
young game players who have no interest in being entertained passively.
"We have a whole generation of kids who feel entitled to be game
designers," Mr. Wright said.
To be sure, such open collaborative
projects can fall victim to antisocial behavior. Last week, for
example, obscene postings prompted The Los Angeles Times to curtail an
experiment in collective editorial writing using a software system
called a Wiki, an Internet server program that permits users to
collaborate in the creation of Web pages.
But the Yahoo My Web
designers think they have found a way around that hazard with a system
in which individuals invite their friends and business colleagues to
join them – an approach that will create overlapping search communities
based on mutual trust.
The Yahoo My Web software makes it
possible for users to categorize or "tag" Web pages they have found, as
well as annotate them. Tagging makes it possible for groups of
independently acting computer users to create improvised classification
The My Yahoo system makes it possible to use tags to
find categories of information as well as experts on particular
subjects. The system has a feature making it possible to see whether an
associate who has found and saved a document is online and available to
be contacted through Yahoo’s instant-messaging system.
organizing the collections of tags on a central server, and they create
what is being called a "folksonomy," to distinguish the classification
system from a traditional taxonomy.
Similar tagging systems are
being used by Web services like Flickr, the photo-sharing service
purchased by Yahoo; Technorati, the Web log search engine; and
del.icio.us, a service for categorizing Web pages. But Yahoo is the
first major company to adopt the approach to harness group knowledge.
founder, David L. Sifry, said the company had picked up 18 million
tagged postings and more than 1.4 million unique tag names since
January. He said a new set of standards would extend tagging into areas
like reviews, calendar events and profiles of individuals.
development of the tagging system typifies the bubbling up of Internet
creativity. "There is a lot of innovation coming from the fringe," said
Tim O’Reilly, the chief executive of O’Reilly Media, a publishing
company based in Sebastopol, Calif.
Mr. O’Reilly, a pioneer of
the commercial Internet in the 1990’s, said he believed that new
business models would soon emerge to match the technologies. "Certain
types of proprietary content are being displaced by freely sharable
content," he said. "Yet ultimately, this is a more complex situation,
too. New ways of monetizing content are emerging." And Google, notably,
has shown the business potential in software that harnesses online
For Ms. Fake of Flickr, however, the business model is still secondary. "We’re creating a culture of generosity," she said.