Monday, December 3, 2007

The Tao of Web 2.0

When I first signed up for the lecture entitled "Beyond the Web 2.0 Revolution" at the New School last week, I expected to get the latest scoop on some newfangled technology that will drive the Internet to higher heights. Was I ever wrong. I left there with so many ideas swirling inside my head I just had to write them down. Below you'll find a summary of the main points...

Dr. Hiroshi Tasaka, President of the think tank SophiaBank and professor at Tama University in Tokyo, had already started his presentation by the time I arrived (fashionably late!). The classroom was almost full but I managed to find a lone, empty seat in the second row. It took me a few minutes to catch on to what he was saying, and his thick accent took some getting used to, but slowly it started to make sense.

He was talking about how, at the same time that we move forward into to the future, there's also a resurgence of the past - but with an "upgrade". For example, auctions have been around for centuries, but online auctions have taken the concept and made it much more efficient. Similarly, e-learning adds additional value to the education process by allowing anyone to sign up to online classes with say, Harvard professors (also see "Yale to Make Select Courses Available Online").

He then talked about mutual infiltration, where systems in competition become similar to each other. In the past, businesses were either in cyberspace or in a physical space. Now all businesses are using both real and virtual spaces, evolving into a new integrated system.

Dr. Tasaka went on to define complex systems, which are living systems characterized by evolution and the formation of eco systems. He says that the information revolution has made all systems complex - for ex. companies, markets, society. The Internet is the largest man-made complex system. It's a huge system that no one can control and it's comprised of many eco systems - so it's difficult to predict or analyze or divide into parts. In cyber space, evolution happens quickly, so laws don't work. There's also the "butterfly effect", when small actions can change whole systems, making it difficult to predict the future.

He cited the iPod as an example of eco systems. Its success was due to the evolution of eco systems - both products and services. The Internet, digital music, licenses, lifestyles all had to evolve for the iPod to encounter such huge demand. So when creating a product, companies need to promote the evolution of the whole eco system.

Then he asked, what is the most complex system in this planet? The answer: the human psychology. It's the result of 13.7 billion years of evolution.

Dr. Tasaka foresees changes happening in 7 areas:

1. Innovation
We'll move from beneficiary innovation to participatory innovation.
Web 2.0 is about the wisdom of crowds, or our collective intelligence. To promote this he predicts there will be a new style of innovation. Up until now the government and large corporations were the ones pushing for innovation, with users and customers benefiting from it. From now on we'll see users and customers themselves participating in the process of innovation. The "prosumer", or the producer/consumer, will emerge, just as Alvin Toffler predicted in his book, "The Third Wave".

2. The Economy
We'll move from a monetary economy to a voluntary economy.
The monetary economy, which values the bottom line and is motivated by people wanting to acquire money, will merge with the new "voluntary economy", which is large and invisible, and made up of jobs you don't "see", like housework, and childcare. Web 2.0 will increase the importance of this because social networks give people the ability to pose a question and receive multiple answers. In essence it's people giving out free advice - it's like they're imparting wisdom on a voluntary basis - and that will drive the monetary economy. He cited Amazon's grass roots reviews as an example. Amazon reviewers are the voluntary economy but Amazon is the monetary economy, generating profits from people's reviews. Once at opposite sides, there will be a process of mutual infiltration between the voluntary and monetary economies. (here's an interesting post from about what might motivate people to contribute reviews on Amazon)

3. Culture
We'll move from an indirect to a direct democracy of culture.
The professor says that historically the sequence of events that brought a product to market would look like this: the company does market research, they develop products and services based on that and then sales will drive their decision making. There's a hidden vote present - consumers vote with their wallets, and if sales are high the company will increase production. Similarly, in the music industry, a music producer will discover an artist, create a huge promotional campaign to generate buzz, and then look for further opportunities to create buzz. But with the advent of Web 2.0, all that is turned upside down. Because many niches exist in cyberspace, an independent artist can release his music on the Internet and become an instant hit when music lovers of his particular genre find him and tell others.

4. Talent
We'll move from single talent to multi-talent professionals.
It used to be that if you wanted to be a professional photographer you would have to train for years and work for peanuts as an assistant until you "paid your dues." But now with digital cameras and editing software it's much easier. People can leave comments on your site and you can improve your work based on their critiques. Then there's the "Da Vinci" effect, where we embrace our many talents and let them blossom. For example, you can be a sales manager by day and an ecologically-minded social entrepreneur during the weekends, compose songs and then release them on the Internet, write a series of essays on your blog and publish them as an eBook with photos that you've taken yourself, and finally you can produce a movie of your last trip to Europe and screen it on YouTube. Phew! Just writing about it makes me tired!

We'll move from a single personality life to multi-personality life
Web 2.0 allows people to express themselves in many ways, through daily blogs, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., which can have a healing effect. We have many personalities deep inside us, but we repress most of them to avoid confusion in daily life. So how can we express our hidden selves? Dr. Tasaka says Web 2.0 gives us three ways:

  1. non-verbal expression (like a painting)
  2. playing a character in a drama (Ever try playing Second Life?)
  3. in an anonymous message (writing a short story)
6. Paradigm
We'll move from a mechanical system paradigm to a living system paradigm
Because we've been successful with science and technology, we tend to view the world as a large mechanical system that we can control, but we're just fooling ourselves. Nature is unpredictable - look at Katrina or global warming. The world is not mechanical - it's a large, living system. In the Internet, all systems are complex living systems. People organize themselves into groups that emerge, evolve, co-evolve and create their own ecology. Because of this, Dr. Tasaka says we will go:

-from analyzing to using intuition
-from controlling to promoting emergence
-from learning the laws to changing the laws
-from using power to creating empathy and coherence
-from predicting the future to creating the future

7. Civilization
We'll move from western civilization to eastern civilization
According to Dr. Tasaka, Eastern civilizations have espoused the living system paradigm more than Western cultures. Chinese medicine uses a holistic approach to cure illness - a change of diet, breathing, meditation, exercise. Western doctors on the other hand, look at the problem and say, let's eliminate it, let's cut off the organ or prescribe medication to cope with it - without investigating the cause. Dr. Tasaka says that same holistic approach used in the East can be used to change the problems of the world.

Diversity is very important in the evolution of eco systems, and the Internet can be used to promote that diversity of value systems. He says that Japan should use the web to introduce the following concepts to the US and the world:

, which means eight million Gods, or the co-existence of many value systems

-Sansen-soumoku-kokudo-sikai-bussyo, which is animism/pantheism, or the ability to role-play and become someone else temporarily

-Enishi, the feeling you get when you meet someone - is there a deeper meaning to this encounter? Nothing is by chance...

Web 2.0 makes it possible for us to see what daily life is like in the other side of the world (with for ex. YouTube videos). If we see how other people live, we will be more in touch with the state of the earth. There are many problems on a global level - global warming, terrorism, hunger. The Internet, he believes, was given to us to overcome these problems and grow as human beings.

And that, I finally realized with surprise, is the next "new thing". That's what's beyond Web 2.0. It's not about a new technology or a new gadget that will revolutionize our lives. It's about the Internet becoming an agent for peace and harmony through expanded use of social online networks. As more of us express ourselves freely and openly online, we access our true purpose, our spiritual core. Web 2.0 then allows us to come together with others that are doing the same, which will lead to ever expanding levels of integration and community. For Dr. Tasaka, that's what the next "wave" of the internet is, and he believes we're at the start of what will be a wonderful story for mankind.

Do you agree, disagree? And how might we apply this as entrepreneurs? Share your thoughts!


Bonbon Oiseau said...

I saw Prof. Tasaka speak last year at the Japan Society as part of their U.S.-Japan Innovator's Series. The topic was "Is the MFA the new MBA" about creativity in business. I believe he gave the same presentation (powerpoint!) I felt the same way afterwards--so many new ideas swirling around my head...

The doors opened by Web 2.0 have been defining new paths in business and beyond. (Great link about why people contribute to Amazon reviews--Yelp is another good example of this I think)

We are enabled to watch the world shrink while we become part of a any community we want to be part of or simply try out new communities in hope of changing or advancing our careers or educating ourselves or discovering new friends. The integration of systems have enabled us to see the world, see the world differently, and see the world any time of day or night with every simple click.
I enjoyed his optimism about the opportunties that web 2.0 will bring human-kind-it's very interesting stuff.
Thanks for your insightful post!

kim said...

I've just come across your blog and defintely feel that there was a reason for this!

His ideas sound about right. I've been writing on my blog for about 6 months now and am already seeing the changes in myself and my lifestyle. Much is opening up for me and to me. I've manaaged to find community in a way I never have while physically living in one. That sort of connection will surely enhance lives in meaningful ways....taking on the world is a bit much for me right now, but I tend to agree with the premise of what he says. And like it. Thanks for all of the great information.