Everything I know about Web 2.0, I learned at AOL. I plunged in with the idea of bringing a magazine's worth of content every week to an audience the size of a daily newspaper, but I also knew that everything I'd done online personally had been about community, conversation and interaction. That a conversation could be distributed and asynchronous but as long as it engaged the mind and encouraged full responses rather than just the AOL joke(me too!) the medium mattered less than the message - although I also knew there were people I couldn't stand online who were great in person, so I tend to think online conversation supplements rather than replaces face to face friendship. Our highest traffic area was the download section - and building up UK libraries of individually uploaded files to replace the US content took a loooong time - and the gateways out to real Internet services. But the areas we built community around, with the help of the AOL volunteers and the odd special guest, where the ones that thrived. I'd be trying to explain it to people who'd heard Steve Case's 'content is king' mantra, which evolved into six 'c's I don't know if I can even remember and I found myself using the phrase 'they come for content and they stay for community'; if we couldn't have something new every day, every hour, every minute we could give them places to chat, real time or in message boards, with bouncers to deal with the trolls - and that's how we grew the audience.

At a certain point I found myself confronted with a bullying editorial director who declared that advertising is content too, and with the same US management team who'd dismantled the volunteer team in the US and realised I could no longer do the job I wanted to do there. But just as Simon built a blog-style CMS years before anyone else (and the equivalent of HP's Snapfish years before that too), I was doing social content over a decade ago.So I was slightly amused by the press release in my inbox today from UKFast announcing that 'Online Communities Sustain Paid-For News Model'. And that community has to have real content and real community; if the "better, more tailored promotions" suggested by someone called Mark Garner from a site I'm not familiar with Planet Confidential are advertising rather than content your profile says you're interested in they're straight into AOL, the eyeball years -  because advertising is NOT content like any other. Yes, magazines have always run sponsored features and advertorial, but it's clearly labelled and I believe all the readers can tell it apart from independent editorial - just as they know the difference between the salesperson in the shop recommending something and a friend saying how good their new camera is. It's about agenda as much as expertise...

Office 2010 in a bit more depth

It's hard to make my mind up about the Office Web apps. They're a long way behind Google Docs and Zoho and Microsoft's own view of what Web apps should be at this stage; Word Web is just a viewer, OneNote Web isn't there yet and only Excel Web has the promised co-authoring - which I found really confusing when I tried it with another journalist without a back-channel (it's crazy that there's no 'IM your co-author' button because you can just overwrite each other). It's a different kind of frustrating from Google Docs; the last time I used that in anger, boy was I angry - we both wrote a paragraph and it asked us which one we wanted to delete. Wave-style character-by-character collaboration is going to be just as weird; totally ADD, but with labels for who-done-what. OneNote 2010 has the who-did-what labels, which I wish I could turn off (I expect I can, I left them on for screen grabs); I wonder what proportion of 'shared' OneNote notebooks are shared with the author's alter ego on another PC? (For that matter, I wonder when I get a OneNote client for Windows Mobile as good as the one for iPhone?)

But just as I think 'oh, Microsoft has over-reached massively, trying to develop Web apps and SharePoint apps and desktop apps all at the same time' and decide to go back to shouting at the Office team about the Protected View bugs or the way Offline Files with Win 7 and Office 2010 doesn't let me *save* any of the files offline (and I don't blame Win 7 for that), I click on something in PowerPoint Web and discover I can create SmartArt diagrams. Perfect for designing the architecture of our new Web site in a lovely clear diagram. And Excel has a huge set of functions in the Web app. And it's very like Office as an experience and an interface.

I'm going to take a while to make my mind up. I was saying to ianmcdonald that I couldn't give up Word because of AutoCorrect but it's also the keyboard shortcuts and a dozen other little things. If they're not in the Web version - if they're too hard to do in the browser, which I suspect they will be - will I still want to use Word Web in the random emergencies when I don't have a PC with Word on to hand?

For a more hands-on, less fluffy look at the Office Web apps, my first look is over at TechRadar.

HP and IBM make a play for Web 2.0

Cloud computing needs a lot of computers, which means a lot of failed computers and software that doesn't care. Google does it with disposable consumer motherboards and custom power supplies; IBM and HP think you'll prefer something cooler, or with a thousand cores, or maybe a petabyte of storage... I wasn't sure if the Tom's Hardware readership was interested in high-end data centres, but I got a lot of comments on the HP story (and only one of them was 'will it blend?').,1937.html,1943.html

I think I'm in love with Live Mesh

While himself is writing away (write like the wind! so we can go out in the sun!), I decided to set up Live Mesh. I'd followed the link they handed out at Web 2.0 but I knew from the Mesh team that those invites had all been used up (my guess: Microsoft provisioned for all the folk at the show but it wasn't a hard URL to guess even if you didn't find it in a blog). My signup was pending, but once you're in you can invite people and they get to join the Mesh straight away, so Simon invited me and shared his writing folder.

He sent it to the Live ID I use for my main email address, which for reasons of complexity is set to US locale and for reasons of me being a bear of little brain I can't remember the password for. I don't normally need to remember it because I have it linked to the Live ID I use all the time, which is my Hotmail address. After a couple of guesses I thought, 'let's see how smart Mesh is' and signed in with the main Live ID instead. Mesh accepted it. I could install the software (tiny) and see Simon's folder - but not his devices, so good separation. I added a folder that I don't have set up with SyncToy to replicate back to the server because the path isn't straightforward and as it has conference presentations it's useful for Simon on the road. But I didn't want to share it back to his Gmail account because I couldn't remember the email. He was in the process of linking his Live ID 's so I invited his main email account. And when he accepted the invitation while he was logged in with his other Live ID (still with me at the back?), it worked - all the linked Live ID 's have access to the Mesh they're supposed to have access to.

Now we have folders we can see and choose to sync from each other's machines. They sync quickly - and with placeholders for any files that haven't synced yet. Files are replicated into the cloud (up to 5GB) but if there's a direct path from my PC to Simon's the connection goes that way for speed and you can sync files over 5GB to another Mesh endpoint as long as it has the disk space.

If I don't want to sync the files to my PC because I don't need to have them, I just need to have access to them - I can see them online, through the Live Desktop - a browser window that shows me files and folders. I can open a file onto my PC or save it onto my PC or upload a file myself. This is the most idiot-proof syncing and sharing system I've ever seen and I speak as a bona fide idiot before my first cup of coffee.

I can think of so many ways to use this - and this is just the demonstration app. What matters is that underlying synchronisation layer. I want Flickr to be a Mesh endpoint so I never explicitly use an uploader again; I just mark a folder for sync and every image with a 5-star rating goes up (or maybe every image goes up but the rated ones go in a set). I want this to sync OneNote notes to my phone (Windows Mobile and Nokia clients are on the way). I'd quite like it as a way of doing posts from my mobile to LiveJournal - it would leave me an archive that could also be synced to the Semagic archive folder for local backup. It will mean that when Simon downloads videos he doesn't have to move them onto the NAS by hand. A universal list of the widgets I like and what basic settings I want them to have for every new widget platform to snarf up instead of me saying 'Weather: London, San Jose, Seattle, Christchurch' by hand every time.

Yep. There may be heartbreak and throwing of china in my future (What do you mean you don't like mapped drives? Mapped drives are very important to me!) but for now, Live Mesh is my new shiny.

Hey - I like it enough not to save all this until I get paid to write about it!

Where, who, what - attendr

plane feet
I have to like a site that mocks the -r convention of Web 2.0 sites but I also really like being able to see who at a conferenec comes from where using Attendr. We're going to need a 'MyPlace' microformat for embedding the map view we want of ourselves in our profiles along with our geocode to plug straight into these kinds of sites instead of entering the information from scratch each time. How about having it as an InfoCard property, to give me control of where it gets used and for what...

Web 2.0 is metadata

full steam ahead
Why Web 2.0 will end your privacy
Are they investing in Web 2.0 sites because they're cool? Nope - because they can do contextual advertising. Which will be the next big thing; Microsoft's adCenter will allegedly detect your gender from your surfing habits and allow advertisers to deliver 'relevant' ads on the next page you visit.

But that's not quite all the answer. The VCs are investing because they all want whatever turns out to be the next Google: Google's VC had another 199 projects you've probably never heard of, and that was just in that 12 months. There's the me-too element and the 'new and shiny' bubble element. There's the fact that if you're under 21, 60+% of the content you look at online is generated by someone you know (news as entertainment rather than information again). Tim O'Reilly has been saying for a long time that the future of Web applications is metadata (Amazon ratings, flickr tags, digg 'dugs' and the rest), and that the smart companies get us to make the metadata for them.

And the other side of the coin is Identity 2.0, as it seems to be called. Add together the US laws on ID theft that mean companies have to disclose how many personal details they lose in laptop thefts, stolen backup tapes and good old-fashioned hacker break-ins, the post-SarbOx emphasis on compliance and regulation and the fact that the head of compliance is more likely to be on the board than the head of IT. Not many companies want the responsibility of keeping a lot of customer data unless it's sanitised and anonymised. Technology and privacy advocates are finally going in the same direction: put the user back in control of what data they disclose to a site and tell them where what they say is going (at least in the first instance). Over the next year or so we'll start seeing more ways to log in with tools like InfoCards that give you at the very least more of an idea about who is tracking what about you.



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