Drive-By Data & Web 2.0

Here are two things most people demonstrably don’t get about user-generated content in Web 2.0:

  1. It doesn’t work if it feels like work.
  2. For the general population to embrace it needs to skew toward drive-by data.

Too many of the current Web 2.0 applications are walled gardens expecting me to bookmark there, tag things there, and generally convince other people in my circle to go there so that we can all benefit from … something or another to do with sharing. While I’m far from a sharing cynic, and believe very strong in the notion of intelligence at the edge pushing increasingly into the core, this stuff just doesn’t work.
What was different about Flickr, Amazon’s book reviews, and so on, is that the community benefit came as a consequence of the site being useful for other reasons. If Amazon had simply been a place where you could put book reviews it wouldn’t have worked; if Flickr had simply been a place where you could tag photos it wouldn’t work. Most people wouldn’t have found it worth the effort.
Sure, there are some keeners out there who will go nuts and load up their Yahoo Myweb page with lots of data, or put their whole family tree in Linkedin, or write scripts to port their stored booksmarks to — but those people are not like us. They are a corner of a corner of a corner.
For most people their contributions will come because they are in the middle of living their life, in media res, as it were — and living throws off information. Call it drive-by data. Some of that data thrown off is useful, and if people choose to share it then you have an opportunity extract good stuff from the edge. But relying on the edge to consciously and conscientously play contributor is naive.


  1. Spot on…

  2. jeff spencer says:

    i think the community benefit of works in the same manner. i originally used it because i could access my bookmarks from anywhere and it had easier organization than my browser bookmark folders.

  3. Another approach is to get that data shared with other sites, so your blogging app provides one cut of data, your aggregator another, your email address book another, etc.

  4. Absolutely! That’s why the next point in my talks, right after I claim that user contribution is the key to competitive advantage in Web 2.0 applications, is about what I call “the architecture of participation.” That is, design your system so that user contribution is a natural side effect of users pursuing their own goals. This was Clay Shirky’s wonderful point in his talk “Listening to Napster.” Shawn Fanning started the P2P revolution by making sharing opt out, rather than opt in.

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