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The Culture Root for Web 2.0 and Barrack Obama

Just like how venture capitalists pick CEOs for their portfolio companies, I put 'experience' and -track record of execution'

On the other side, if you take a look at Web 2.0, doesn’t the Obama story remind us of something? Ajax came out from nowhere and took the developer world like a wildfire. Rich Internet Application (RIA) is becoming the de facto way of writing applications within just a couple of years, defying the existing establishments that have dominated the world of programming for decades. FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, etc. and the other many Web 2.0 startups, typically started by some young inexperienced kids that nobody has heard of, suddenly became the center of our digital life. Time magazine’s “Person of 2006” is “You”. This “web 2.0” phenomenon is also taking our world by storm.

Likewise, similar questions can be asked: What is the reason for this “Web 2.0” phenomenon? Why now?

Granted, there are a lot of “reasons”. They haven been well articulated in the press, articles, books and the blogsphere (for example, see CBSNews: How Obama Became The Man To Beat ). There is no need for me to repeat them here. But I believe there is more. I think there is something much deeper. I think there is something deeper in our society and our culture that has yet to be said for enabling this kind of phenomena.

On the surface, the Web 2.0 phenomenon and the Obama phenomenon are unrelated. They seem to be unrelated events in two separate fields. However, deep down, they are both results of something deeper in our current culture and society. Our civilization and society have evolved into an era that is distinctly different from anything that the human kind has had before. This era is best characterized by its culture. It is something that I don’t know how to clearly articulate besides putting a vague term “the iGen Culture” (Internet Generation) to refer to it.

Let’s look at the characteristics and principles of this iGen culture by comparing the Obama phenomenon and the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

  1. Connecting With People

    A big part of Web 2.0 is about connecting people. Other things such as novelty of the idea, engineering ingenuity, and technology breakthrough etc. are secondary. “Users” (the millions of consumers for example) make or break a web 2.0 company. Before Web 2.0, people connected and communicated just fine. However, the iGen culture elevated “connecting with people” to such a status that we value a social network like FaceBook, useful but not sure how useful, at a staggering $15B valuation, three years after it was founded.

    In the presidential race, Hilary kept pounding on her track record, experience and issues/positions. –Isn’t that presidential candidates should do? However, the secret here is that “connecting with people” is far more important in this era. Obama did really well here by putting “connecting with people” at the front and center of his attention. He connects with people by talking about his father being from Kenya, and his wife shopping at Target, etc. He turns his own “inexperience” into a positive thing by positioning himself as just one of “you”.

  2. Popularity First, Everything Else Later

    In the Web 2.0 world, it is a winning strategy for “a startup to focus on pursuing millions of users first, and worry about business model later”. Business model is obviously the No.1 concern for any business, but it is OK to come later in the web 2.0 world. There are so many examples: FaceBook, YouTube, Google, MySpace, Skype… that have proven this time and time again.

    In a presidential race, you would expect things like issues, positions, track record, etc as the key factors influencing voter decisions. Nope. “Popularity” is the key in this iGen culture. Whether a candidate is liked by voters weighs much more than other factors. Of course, we all logically know that “likeability! = capability”. However, human beings are genetically programmed to “vote” for what their hearts felt instead of what their heads tell them. Though during the human history so far, “likeability” has always been overshadowed by some other harsh realities that forced voters to use their heads a little more. For example, even in some other countries today, if you don’t vote for a particular candidate that you don’t like, you could get shot.

    In this iGen culture, if you have popularity, you have the basis for getting other things that you desire. High school students are far more interested in Clay Atkins than Einstein. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears always have ways to dominate the media. Though it still puzzles me why thousands of people would be so hooked onto watching the mundane details of some guy’s daily life broadcasted over the web.

  3. User Experience Is The Differentiator

    The rise of Web 2.0 reflects what consumers nowadays are looking for: a better experience. GoogleMap won over Web 1.0’s MapQuest because of better user experience. Google Search won the “search” market because of its user experience. Ajax as a web development technique for delivering rich web experience has been available for more than ten years. It never caught people’s attention during Web 1.0. At the time, we were consumed in getting onto the web. However, once everyone is on the web, user experience becomes the differentiator. Suddenly Ajax was “discovered” and spread like a wildfire.

More Stories By Coach Wei

Coach Wei is founder and CEO of Yottaa, a web performance optimization company. He is also founder and Chairman of Nexaweb, an enterprise application modernization software company. Coding, running, magic, robot, big data, speed...are among his favorite list of things (not necessarily in that order. His coding capability is really at PowerPoint level right now). Caffeine, doing something entrepreneurial and getting out of sleeping are three reasons that he gets up in the morning and gets really excited.

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