Of Web 2.0, Mobile Web 2.0 , Blue chairs, Blind men and Elephants


I will be speaking at the O Reilly Web 2.0 expo. If you want to catch up for a meeting, please email me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

I often start a talk about Mobile Web 2.0 using the slide of the Blue Chair. It looks like a silly slide – because all it says is ‘A blue chair is a type of chair’. However, I believe that it is one of the most important slides in my presentation because it sets Mobile Web 2.0 in context of Web 2.0

As McKinsey legitimises the usage of Web 2.0, I find it amusing that people still insist on creating their own definitions of Web 2.0. There is nothing wrong of course in attempting to create your own meme of Web 2.0 (independent of the O Reilly definition), but that definition must be strong enough to stand intellectual scrutiny.

If not, your new definition operates in intellectual vacuum.

When I first saw the seven principles of Web 2.0 in Christmas 2005, like for many people, it was an ‘aha’ moment for me. These principles brought together many things we knew individually but missed collectively. That last bit is very important, because the idea was to get the big picture i.e. all the seven principles – not just a few(and if you miss that, you will insist that Ajax = Web 2.0!).

There are three types of intellectual stumbling blocks to the acceptance of Web 2.0 :

a) Firstly, people who create their own definition of web 2.0 independent of the O Reilly definition. Strangely enough, they are deluded into believing that they can still create a different meme of Web 2.0. This tribe has thankfully decreased – but in the early days, you saw many of them

b) Secondly, people who create web x.y where x>= 2. This group includes all definitions of Web 2.5, Web 3.0 and so on – independent of the definition of Web 2.0. If someone comes across with similarly succinct definition of Web x.y as that of Web 2.0, I am happy to listen to it. So far, I have seen none.

c) The third group is the most common. They remind me of the parable of the Blind men of Indostan and the elephant. They latch on to a part of the definition of Web 2.0 – and like the blind men in the parable, they miss the whole elephant .


Which brings us back to the chairs ..

When I say .. a blue chair is a type of chair .. silly as it sounds, but by that I mean: you can’t define a concept in isolation.

Specifically, Mobile Web 2.0 cannot be defined independently of Web 2.0. Mobile Web 2.0 is not a new meme – it is a sub class of an existing meme(Web 2.0)

On reading the seven principles of Web 2.0, my first impression was: They were excellently thought out. However, the sixth principle was interesting for me, because it talked about ‘Software Above the Level of a Single Device. However, all it mentioned was the iPod. Being based in Europe, when we think ‘Mobile devices’ – we think ‘Mobile phones’.

Therefore, to me, there remained the possibility of expanding this segment of the definition (Principle six).

BUT .. I did not want to be a blind man of Indostan (inspite being born in India :) )

The Blind man definition(pick up bits you like and then extend them to other settings) – is an intellectual cop out and lazy thinking.

Thus, the next logical question is: How can you encapsulate all of the seven principles into a single idea? (the objective being of course – that if I could do so, THEN I could extend it to Mobile devices! – and consequently – it would not be a ‘blind man’ definition.

This led ironically to one of my shortest blogs and the most successful one till date.

It’s key insight was: Tim O Reilly’s seven principles of Web 2.0 make a lot more sense if you changed their order and then realise that the second principle(harnessing collective intelligence) encapsulates all the others. Tim commented on that idea on the O Reilly radar

So, now if we accept that Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence – then Mobile Web 2.0 becomes a case of ‘harnessing collective intelligence through Mobile devices’

The only small question which remains is: What exactly is a mobile device?

For the answer to that question, I used Barbara Ballard’s Carry principle

So, there you have it –

a) Web 2.0 can be encapsulated as harnessing collective intelligence

b) Mobile Web 2.0 can be thought of as harnessing collective intelligence through Mobile devices and

c) ‘Mobile devices’ are defined by the Carry principle

So, this is what I blogged about in the Three Characteristics of Mobile Web 2.0 and we (Tony Fish and I), later adopted that definition for our book Mobile Web 2.0

Finally, why attempt to attack existing definitions and create new one?

Because shooting down something without understanding it is the quickest way of getting attention – ask any blogger – negative blogs always get traction – but the McKinsey study shows me that good quality thinking survives in the long run!

I will be speaking at the O Reilly Web 2.0 expo. If you want to catch up for a meeting, please email me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

Comments are working on this blog finally – so please feel free to comment.


  1. Paul Golding says:

    I have a number of questions:
    If I use mobiles to conduct a telephone survey (poll) – is that harnessing collective intelligence and is it therefore Mobile Web 2.0?
    Which mobile services are harnessing collective intelligence? Some examples would be useful.
    What is the benefit of creating a concept called Web 2.0 or Mobile Web 2.0 at all and why do we need to know about it?
    There are plenty of websites out there that are creating a lot of utility for their users simply by exploiting new technological possibilites, such as low storage costs, AJAX, broadband etc. It is now possible to create sites that offer services going well beyond the original publishing model of the Web, so we have definitely evolved on the Web, but not thanks to “2.0″ memes. I suspect that most of these Web entrepreneurs are single-mindedly exploiting these technologies without “getting the big picture of Web 2.0″ simply because it doesn’t matter. BY your analogy, yhey are therefore blind.
    In fact, they produce the outputs that end up on the Web 2.0 meme map, not the other way around, so getting the big picture doesn’t matter. After all, as you say, it’s just a meme, nothing more. My personal objection to this kind of meta-narrative of the Web is that it’s really using a social-sciences type of approach to create terms and ideas for their own sake whereas we don’t need to do that in technology.
    The mobile industry is truly in need of re-invention to enable plain old web 1.0 to work. Shouldn’t we focus on this problem first? I feel that you will only be adding to the “mobile data” hype that has sorely let users down time and again.

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hi Paul
    Thanks for your post. The best way for me to respond to these questions is: to provide a concrete example. I am working on a longish post which relates to my talk at Mobile Monday Silicon Valley. I will post it after that talk kind rgds Ajit