MECO 6936 Social Media Communication
The term ‘Web 2.0’ was popularised in 2004, being then defined as ‘a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet—a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects’ (Musser & O’Reilly, 2007). The man who popularised the term Web 2.0, Tim O’Reilly, viewed in through the lens of business, describing it as a ‘transformative force that’s propelling companies across all industries toward a new way of doing business’ (Musser & O’Reilly, 2007). Of the eight ‘core patterns’ identified in the new Web 2.0 by O’Reilly one can be considered prophetic. O’Reilly (2007) argued that business would need to ‘engage users as co-developers and real-time testers’ extrapolating that ‘real-world user behavior provides a much more accurate model for assessing new product features than marketing requirements documents, prototypes, or any other form of non-production feedback’ and that ‘The nature of web-based applications and the creator’s ability to actively monitor how the software is used in the wild is a dramatic shift from the days of desktop software.’
Comparison of Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0
O’Reilly’s assessment is as true in 2004 as it is today. In their 2013 book Understanding Social Media Hinton and Hjorth echo O’Reilly’s assessment by arguing that Web 2.0 is the ‘transition of the internet into user-focused business models.’ These business models aim to commercialise the internet by creating strategies around the behaviour of internet users. Shuen (2008) discusses two definitions meanings at either end of the Web 2.0 spectrum, a technical definition states that internet architectures and technologies have ‘combined to trigger a phase transition—from a Web 1.0 collection of static web sites to a Web 2.0 platform for a new generation of dynamic social web applications and services’ to a more business orientated definition that describes Web 2.0 as a ‘a profitable path to growth and advertising-based monetization of network effects’ that could summarise Web 2.0 more accurately as ‘Web to wealth.’
Web 2.0’s commercialisation of the internet has only been achieved through the evolution of the internet’s capabilities, particularly in personalisation and content creation. The most influential player in Web 2.0, social media, provides users with the means to create and produce content. User created content and user generated content has enabled businesses the ability to profit from ‘the labour and creativity of internet users’ (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Therefore, one of the key characteristics of Web 2.0 is the ‘the transition of the internet into user-focused business models’ (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013).
The capabilities and commercialisation of Web 2.0 has raised concern over how users labour has been commodified and exploited for commercial purposes. In 2005 Livingstone wrote ‘the signs are growing that once-anarchic, perhaps emancipatory internet is subject to increasing attempts to privatise, commercialise, control and profit from the activities of consumers online’ (Livingstone, 2005). Eight years later the idea is still relevant as Hinton and Hjorth (2013) ask ‘are the users the subject of control, as their personal information and creative and cultural labour is monitored and commodified by social media companies?’ They go so far as to contextualise Web 2.0 within the ‘tension between control and freedom and between exploitation and empowerment.’ The ‘use or being used’ idea is here to stay as user generated content and user created content becomes more integrated with commercialisation and profit, as well as any individual or organisation seeking to use what is now one of the most powerful social and cultural currencies on the internet. Audiences have moved from being consumers of media to participants in it. Jenkins (2006) defines this participatory culture as ‘a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal membership whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.’
Web 2.0 through the enabling social media and social networking sites has empowered individuals and organisations at the expense of traditional power structures and institutions. Anyone with an internet connection can now produce and reproduce content which has affected organisations such as media companies, whose monopoly over the creation and distribution of content is being challenged. The ubiquity of smart phones and power of Web 2.0 has given rise to ‘citizen journalism.’ The collection and dissemination of news content is extremely cheap, offering individuals and organisations the opportunity to create content that challenges and undermines traditional news media through the power of Web 2.0. This is evident in the worrying trend of ‘fake news’ as political agendas are pushed through the internet while traditional media systems struggle to be financially viable in the brave new online world of create-and-disseminate-your-own-content.
Social networking sites, of which Twitter and Facebook play a crucial role, have the power to harness the power of collective action and challenge social and political institutions. In 2011, The Arab Spring witnessed the fall of governments in North Africa and the Middle East. Howard (2011) analysed millions of social media posts during the Arab Spring, arguing that these social networking sites played an important role in canvassing support for the cause and acting as an organisational tool for dissenters. Indeed, Web 2.0 has the potential to serve as an interconnected locus of political activity, one that transcends geographical boundaries. In 2011, the global protest movement Occupy Wall Street used the internet as a virtual rallying point to highlight and protest the growing economic inequality in Western nations. While Howard (2011) does not believe that Facebook and Twitter were the direct catalyst for the Arab Spring, they invaluable in facilitating it.
For our presentation to the Sydney Conservatorium, we used user created content as a way of harnessing the internet cultural capital. The current set up is simplistic; posting time and dates to attract people to classical music concerts was insufficient. Instead we decided to use gifs, memes and social influencers to attract the attention of our audience (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Our approach, like businesses, harnesses the power of Web 2.0, particularly social media, as it is a ‘fundamentally a participative medium,’ echoing the ethos of Web 2.0 itself. The idea to use content that users would be familiar with was essential; memes and gifs we used had been circulating the internet long enough for our target audiences to identify but were reworked into a classical music context to help advertise the Con’s performances. Our approach was impossible without the capabilities of Web 2.0. As our target audiences are consumers of the internet’s content, liking, commenting, sharing etc., it is essential for our content to do the same.
Example of a meme used for the Con’s performances, made possibly only through the capacities of Web 2.0
Finally, as a reflection on the state of the Web 2.0 and its future, while its likely to witness more comprehensive systems of informational computation and potentially greater integration of off and online culture and social interaction, it will continue to change politics and influence, if not bypass institutional power structures. The 2016 Presidential election was heavily influence by Facebook and Twitter, serving to disseminate information, rally supports, attack the opposition and even spread ‘fake news.’ Donald Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale said ‘Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing’ (Lapowsky, 2016). One of the online symbols of the Donald Trump supporters became the ‘Pepe the frog’ meme, an example of created content that served to promote the right-wing cause and since applied to the presidential election in France in support of right wing candidate Marine Le Pen. It is arguable that new political groups such as the ‘alt right’ could never have existed without Web 2.0 to promote its alternative news and gather support. The future of Web 2.0 is difficult to predict but it will undoubtedly have a significant impact on politics.
An example of ‘Pepe the frog,’ an alt right meme. Memes of Pepe the frog were circulated widely by right wing groups on Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 Presidential election.
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Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Understanding social media. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
Howard, P. N., & Hussain, M. M. (2013). Democracy’s fourth wave?: Digital media and the Arab spring. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lapowsky, I. “Here’s How Facebook Actually Won Trump The Presidency”. Wired.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 May 2017.
Lewis, D. (2006). What is web 2.0? Crossroads, 13(1), 3-3.
Livingstone, S. M. (2005). Audiences and publics: When cultural engagement matters for the public sphere. Bristol, England; Portland, Or;: Intellect.
Musser, J., & O’Reilly, T. (2007). Web 2.0: Principles and best practices. Sebastopol, Calif: O’Reilly Media.
Shuen, A. A. (2008). Web 2.0: A strategy guide. Sebastopol, Calif: O’Reilly Media.