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Giant Web 2.0 Lies

This article first appeared in the June/July issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

Web 2.0 has become much more than just the latest corporate buzzword. With talk of a second internet bubble, YouTube’s sale to Google for $1.65 billion, Time magazine naming "You" the person of the year, and 100 online video-sharing websites with massive participation, "Web 2.0" has become a battle cry for open source proponents, a siren song for venture capitalists, and an overused cliché for industry insiders.

So let’s separate fact from fiction and find genuine business-changing ideas in this mashup of online video, social networking, revenue generation, and user-generated content. First, we’ll set some ground rules and definitions for Web 2.0 and the inbox full of related five-dollar consultant buzzwords. Second, we will outline seven common myths about online video and Web 2.0 and give you some real-world stories and tools to help separate hype from reality. Everyone who reads this article should walk away with at least one concept to implement for themselves or their business (one of the calling cards of Web 2.0 is getting users to generate content, so be prepared to get involved).

What is Web 2.0?
In September 2005, Tim O’Reilly published an online description for Web 2.0 that became the foundation for the next generation of online business concepts and software development. When you do a Google search for "Web 2.0," this is the first article listed, a ranking that supports its popularity and the general agreement on it as the basis for defining this new age of the internet. The true core of his post can be summed up in two key concepts relating to online video: First, open source is an attitude, not a technology; and second, the power is in participation, not publishing.

Great! Now what do these buzzwords mean?

Open source is the philosophical principle behind the way most free or shareware software is developed. One person builds a few pieces of code and shares that online with other folks who add code and continually refine the software as a community. The attitude that comes from an open source project is very focused on a great end-user experience, a belief that by working together we can all make this a better product, and a willingness to share resources and ideas. As an attitude, this has propelled some of the hottest Web 2.0 companies to the top of the heap on the internet. YouTube built a great video-sharing tool, but it took thousands of users uploading, sharing, and commenting on videos to make it a reality. It was also the large community of users that supplied constant feedback on bugs, tweaks, and improvements to the site, making it into a fluid, evolving product. To this day YouTube is still changing and tweaking the website, and you will see weekly and sometimes even daily changes to the design reflecting issues, concerns, and the wishes of its users.

The power of participation as opposed to publishing is another way that Web 2.0 is changing how we do business. Some of you may recall when we had three television channels, a local newspaper, a few fuzzy AM radio stations, and the neighborhood gossips to provide us with the latest information. My, how times have changed. There are 120,000 new blogs created every day (that’s one blog every 1.4 seconds), approximately 65,000 videos uploaded every day just to YouTube alone, and, according to Forrester research, 53% of adults 18 and older view online videos. Instead of a few large media giants pushing out information, we now have millions of individuals sharing information, video, audio, and photos via the internet. Not only is information being shared, but conversations are taking place around that information, and the power of participation is gradually overtaking the power of publishing.

So what are some of the common myths that we hear surrounding Web 2.0?

Myth #1
Traditional businesses can’t make money using online video
In the middle of Utah is a small manufacturing company that makes a remarkable blender, but up until recently most people had never heard of it. George Wright, the still-new marketing manager for BlendTec, was walking by the company’s R&D lab one day when he saw a pile of sawdust on the floor. He asked the engineers what they where doing with the blenders when they tested them and was shocked to find out the stuff they had been throwing into the blenders. "I had to see what these guys were putting into our blenders, and more importantly I wanted to capture it on video," George said. After seeing the torture tests that the blenders were going through, he concluded that sharing some of the videos online could boost BlendTec’s consumer sales.

With $50 worth of materials, two employees behind the camera, their fearless CEO Tom Dickson as a host, and a crazy idea, they recorded a few videos of things like rake handles and marbles being tossed into BlendTec blenders. They loaded up the videos to YouTube in November 2006, and the rest is history. After hundreds of thousands of views of their videos, Dickson and the BlendTec blender had become a certified internet success. They were inundated with requests and suggestions to blend more items, and launched their own blog, www.willitblend.com. They have also been featured on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The Today Show, VH1, and other media outlets. With almost 50 videos showing items that you should and shouldn’t blend at home, BlendTec has built up its consumer brand awareness and has received untold marketing and press coverage for next to nothing.

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