The popularity of yesterday’s article GWAFFTEY — is Web 2.0 now just eight things? took me slightly by surprise. Within 12 hours Google was listing 220 links to it. My contention was that just eight brand concepts — Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, FaceBook, Flickr, Twitter, eBay and YouTube occupied the majority of people’s idea about what online life was like in the Web 2.0 world. They are all massively different — strongly differentiated from each other, and each at the top of their categories, which is why they also occupy the top spot for each of their categories in the Alexa rankings. But they are all to some extent attempts to regulate the internet, bringing their own set of rules to bear on what you can do, or how you should do it, or how it will be ranked and appear to others.
Of course, I missed (because it isn’t in the Alexa rankings, and was therefore not quite in my original remit) the ultimate walled garden internet presence — iTunes. Mind you, iTunes is not Web 2.0, because, strictly speaking (though it depends how you want to define it), iTunes is of the Internet but not of the Web. But add iTunes into the mix and we have GWAFFITEY — easier to pronounce, and probably more memorable. GWAFFITEY also makes a link with an off-line world concept which explains much of the popularity of the rankings game which is played avidly in one way or another on all of the sites I’m talking about.
- Google — it’s all about getting high on the rankings. Much money changes hands in both black hat and white hat Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Being at the top isn’t just a game; it can be the life or death of your business.
- Wikipedia — writing text which stays put and doesn’t get deleted or altered by the next person is a real passion for some people. Occasionally (although it shouldn’t), edit-wars erupt, with two people repeatedly editing and re-editing the same text, unwilling to allow someone else to have the last word.
- Amazon — for user generated content on Amazon, high rankings are coveted, strongly defended, and, occasionally, sufficiently important for some people to cheat for.
- FaceBook — perhaps the clearest proof that “everything which is counted becomes for some a competition” 1. Just listing the number of friends is enough to get some people trying to beat other people.
- Flickr — not to everyone, but the photo ratings and rankings are important to some. The comments can be quite brutal, as well.
- iTunes — some App writers have already been chucked off iTunes for allegedly manipulating their position on the rankings. This is understandable (though inexcusable — there is a difference) for paid apps where people are making money, but competition appears just as fierce for unpaid apps, which is why, very early on, Apple stopped allowing you to view all the latest apps in chronological order, to prevent people gaining more coverage by simply resubmitting their app frequently with minor changes.
- eBay — high seller ratings are coveted because they assist sales, but buyers can also be jealously protective of their buyer ranking
- YouTube — popularity is intensely important, not merely as personal satisfaction, but to breed more popularity.
In all these things, people are staking their claim to a particular coveted area of the net. Which, I am told by criminologists, is exactly what graffiti artists are doing in the off-line world. I used to live in an area of East Birmingham, UK, which was high in anti-social behaviour. Something you learned very early on was that if graffiti appeared, you needed to deal with it quickly. If not, more would follow, swiftly. The reason was that (apparently) graffiti artists really do see their work as something worthwhile, and they want it to remain. Places where graffiti is cleaned up are not popular, because the graffiti is impermanent. This is also one reason why some graffiterati paint in unfeasibly awkward places, not because they are channelling Michelangelo and imagine they are doing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but because the chances of their work being removed by owners and authorities, or altered or covered up by other graffiterati is limited.
In other words, GWAFFITEY sites allow web users to mark out a tiny corner of territory on the web. You can do this on your own website or blog, of course, but the vast majority of sites get very few hits. This is why sites like Tripod and AngelFire, once ubiquitous across the web for their cheap and cheerful personal web-spaces have all but disappeared (once independent competitors, they are both now part of Lycos). After all, what’s the point of marking out a piece of territory that nobody else will ever see?
By contrast, if you have a FaceBook page and 100 friends, chances are that you will get vastly more exposure through them than if you ran your own site. If you write an Amazon review on a popular item, and it manages to survive the predations of the NVTs [ 2. Negative Vote Truncheon — a term in vogue with the Amazon.co.uk Vine community ], then you may well end up with tens of thousands of people reading it. Make a contribution to Wikipedia on a popular subject and — if it sticks, which most doesn’t — millions of people will look at it. Write a hit App, and millions may be carrying a piece of your intellect around in their pockets for years.
In a world of ever increasing personal insignificance, GWAFFITEY allow those who wish it to find as much as they want of their fifteen minutes of fame.
Suddenly, the comparative popularity of these sites against the specialist communities, the commercial content providers and the home-designed (non-blog) websites becomes easy to understand.