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The Zen of the Web 2.0

A Zen saying
When you consider an object, it is what you see that makes it beautiful and what you don't see that makes it useful.

For instance, a wooden bowl. The carved edges, the curved lip and the graceful sweep of the inside make it an object to marvel at. But it's the space it encloses that makes it useful.

The same can be said of the Web and even more so Web 2.0 / social network sites.
Take a site we've all heard of, Facebook (huh?). The ability to list your mates, tell the world your status and play on-line Scrabble may indeed make it something a lot have marvelled at. However it's the coffee with a lost-but-now-found friend, the new job opportunity that came through or meeting new friends at an event that makes it useful.

That which we see online generally engages the "logical" side of us - although there is, of course, a lot of "emotion" within how they engage. We look at a website and ask, "What are it's functions, is it easy to use and does it meet my immediate need?"

That which is not seen generally hits home with what it is to be human. This is much harder to define from standing back and looking at a website. For a start the website is probably only one small window into what the service is providing - Twitter (huh?) is more commonly used by any number of applications, devices and services that don't go anywhere near a web browser and so the website is not even seen by many. As Tom Coates (Yahoo!) said at Webstock 08, "Your site is not your product!"

Also, these sites have to be used, engaged with to define that which is not seen (i.e., useful).

One more example -, an online bookmarking site.
It's seen part (it's function and form):
  • a website that I can sign-up with
  • store my favourite/bookmarks
  • 'catalogue' (tag) my bookmarks however I want
  • retrieve my bookmarks from any browser
  • share my bookmarks
The unseen (useful):
  • I have been notified of emerging web trends by following key people's bookmarks
  • I have worked out that someone had a technical issue by watching their bookmarks and been able to help give them some assistance leading to a resolution
  • I have had my world expanded as people I am connected to have bookmarked sites I would never have thought to visit
  • I have contacted a person who I noted was bookmarking similar sites that ended up with us collaborating on a piece of work
And many many more ways that has been useful to me that is in the space between the functions it supplies.

So, when you approach any Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0** venture looking to use these new tools my advice is to stand back and think, "What is that these products aren't showing me but is truly useful?" and if you can't answer it don't walk away engage with it to find out.

* Unseen by the masses, however, the really great web designers (Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter ...) totally see it and enable the 'unseen' to flourish within their products.

** Enterprise 2.0 is the application of the Web 2.0 technology and mindset within an organisation. - more ...

*** The bowl pictured is a swamp Kauri bowl and made by Nigel Cawte and Shane Harrison of One Good Turn based in the far north of New Zealand

This cross-posted at Groupings, the blog of Webguide:
... an online resource aimed at community groups, iwi groups, and not-for-profit organisations. It is intended to assist these groups in understanding how to use the internet to achieve their goals.


  1. Good post, Mike.

    Another way to frame the issue is to see these applications as putting you –the person– at the centre of the process and enabling/encouraging you to explore useful and valuable activities and interactions with others who are similarly enabled.

    Ideally, any experience with these succesful apps should be both intuitive and just challenging enough to allow you to grow and develop as you 'play' with the tool.

  2. Thanks Jason, appreciate that

    Yep - the person is the centre and without sitting yourself down into that comfy chair and giving it a whirl it's hard to see the "unseen"


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