Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, December 15, 2006

How The Web Is Transforming Itself: Summary and Outlook - Part VII

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"During the last few years, new forms of content generation and organisation on the World Wide Web have emerged. Services such as blogs, wikis and podcasting give users the opportunity to become authors and to express themselves. For the first time, even users lacking the knowledge of the underlying technologies can participate in contributing content to the Web."

Prof. Hermann Maurer - co-author with Josef Kolbitsch of this seven-part essay

In a way, these new services have finally brought a form of democracy to the Internet, and the traditional distinction between content producers and consumer is blurred."

To date, one of the main aims of the World Wide Web has been to provide users with information. In addition to private homepages, large professional information providers, including news services, companies, and other organisations have set up web-sites.

With the development and advance of recent technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasting and file sharing this model is challenged and community-driven services are gaining influence rapidly. These new paradigms obliterate the clear distinction between information providers and consumers. The lines between producers and consumers are blurred even more by services such as Wikipedia, where every reader can become an author, instantly.

This paper has presented an overview of a broad selection of current technologies and services: blogs, wikis including Wikipedia and Wikinews, social networks such as Friendster and Orkut as well as related social services like, file sharing tools such as Flickr, as well as podcasting technologies.

These services enable user participation on the Web and manage to recruit a large number of users as authors of new content.

In the first , second , third, , fourth part, fifth part and sixth of this analysis we have given a general introduction to the new ways in which users can interact though the Web while providing an introduction to blogs, wikis, podcasting, file-sharing, social bookmarking services and tools and their respective use.

In this seventh and last part of this research we are now going to summarize and recapitulate the key points and issues that we have raised in these chapters while providing an overall set of conclusions and a priviliged viewpoint to look at what is yet to come.

Summary and Outlook

Photo credit: Colin and Linda McKie

During the last few years, new forms of content generation and organisation on the World Wide Web have emerged. Services such as blogs, wikis and podcasting give users the opportunity to become authors and to express themselves. For the first time, even users lacking the knowledge of the underlying technologies can participate in contributing content to the Web.

In a way, these new services have finally brought a form of democracy to the Internet, and the traditional distinction between content producers and consumer is blurred. With these new technologies, the flow of content is no longer strictly "top-down", from classic producers to readers, but an increasing number of users become writers and contribute new content.

Thus, a new "bottom-up" movement can be observed--consumers start producing information that is distributed among other users until it is picked up by mainstream media. The aspect that makes such an approach work is the critical mass of users that allows self-organisation to take place. This resembles ant colonies when they are, for example, building nests: while single ants can only contribute small pieces, the collective establishes an extremely complex and efficient structure.

In analogy, new services support individuals in making their knowledge explicit and help collective intelligence unfold. The novel forms of content development have sparked a "revolution" across all types of media. Classic web-sites are complemented with, or even replaced by, wikis; services such as Wikinews and blogs offer an alternative to conventional news providers and commentary; traditional knowledge repositories are challenged by Wikipedia; and radio broadcasting is supplemented by podcasting.

The next logical step seems to be "video-blogging" as an approach to the creation and distribution of television shows. The community-based types of media introduced in this paper allow for alternative perspectives and views that are not suitable for traditional media.

Furthermore, topics that are inappropriate for the mass of users served by broadcast media, as well as news that are possibly not relevant enough for the majority of consumers can be addressed by the new services.

Major Transformations

Photo credit: Erkin Sahin

The new services that have recently emerged have indeed spawned a series of transformations on the Web. The transformation, however, is not only based on technological changes, but more importantly on a fundamental mind shift. The aspects that Web communities (such as blog, wiki, file sharing and social networks, bookmarking services and podcasting groups) have in common are user participation and openness.

Basically every user on the Internet can start new blogs, can readily produce podcasts, and can edit the content in wikis. So, the attitude of users has changed insofar as they now enthusiastically make the information they produce available to the public.

In addition to this, even companies make their content repositories publicly accessible and enable new and sometimes unconventional uses of existing data: the content made available by the BBC, for instance, is used in a dictionary of English phrases. To put it a different way, the services recently developed on the Web are based on "an attitude not a technology".

Apart from making the Web more democratic and enabling user participation, the community-based services have opened up entirely new opportunities. Wikis, for example, have the potential to alter the way collaboration among users and groups happens. It is no longer necessary to send text documents as e-mail attachments or to employ an expensive groupware solution in order to enable collaborative work on a common body of content.

In similar ways, blogs make it possible for users to utilise the Web to express their views--without having to purchase web authoring software or to get acquainted with hypertext technologies.

Opportunities and Future Trends

Photo credit: Ryan Pike

Wikis including Wikipedia, blogs, podcasting, file sharing and similar techniques can react faster to recent events and new developments than conventional infrastructures. When an event happens, it can be published instantly on a blog or in a wiki. In contrast, a traditional news service article has to undergo fact-checking and an editorial process prior to publication.

Articles in Wikipedia are often updated only minutes after new information becomes available. For instance, only shortly after the spacecraft for the Nasa mission to Pluto was launched photos and other details were included in Wikipedia articles. In contrast to this, a classic encyclopaedia requires an editorial cycle (usually at least a year) in order to incorporate such information. With the tools and services at hand, users become more independent from classic information providers.

Therefore in the future, probably a smaller percentage of information will be authored by professional editors, and distributed by (media) companies. Moreover, new structures might become mainstream: wikis, blogs and podcasts are the environments that produce content. When the authors' names are known they can be looked up in social networks in an attempt to verify their expertise.

Finally, social bookmarking services and filter-style blogs are utilised as aggregators and filters in order to offer a balanced selection of reliable information. Hence, individuals as well as large organisations have the potential to establish a network of trust, where information can be accountable to users.

Moreover, systems which rely on a large user community can facilitate the "accidental" encountering of new information. Although environments such as learner support systems or digital libraries explicitly include functionality that enables accidental information encountering, community-based systems provide this feature intrinsically. Examples are Flickr and

Since users in these large communities have varying opinions and interests, they are likely to access diverse resources on the Internet. The information they gather from these contrasting sources can easily be made available within their communities.

Challenges and Concerns

Photo credit: Marcelo Teraza

The changes the Web is undergoing raise a number of concerns. Most can be clearly observed in very large community-based environments such as Wikipedia. One of the most problematic issues is the lack of accuracy and, connected with this, the lack of accountability. Several evolutionary cycles are required to make information accurate and complete, especially in wikis.

In addition, both blogs and wikis do not have the means to indicate the completeness and correctness of articles, which makes it difficult for users to judge the content provided. Moreover, in most community-based systems it is not a requirement to provide a real name when authoring content. Authors can usually hide behind self-assigned synonyms, or only their IP addresses are shown (as for anonymous authors in Wikipedia). Therefore it becomes almost impossible for average readers to find out who the content authors are, and even simple enquiries such as asking for the source of a quotation might be impossible.

Despite the advantages that new technologies have, readers have to learn how to deal with the new media. Users have to get used to the fact that not everything published on the World Wide Web is true and that it is necessary to find at least another, independent source that corroborates the initial document. Visitors have to realise that the same process is even more relevant where content is authored by numerous, potentially anonymous users.

Technological Aspects

Photo credit: Matteo Discardi

As indicated above, the technologies introduced in combination with community-based services make it clear that the design of the Web does not allow for these types of interaction per se. There are no bidirectional hyperlinks, therefore a technology like trackback has to be used. The URI and URL scheme and the composition of documents on the Web do not permit to identify and locate an exact portion of content. Hence permalinks have to be employed.

The implementation of the Web does not consider a notification mechanism for updated or new documents, which makes a method like RSS necessary. Version management is not part of the Web, and so services such as wikis have to implement version tracking systems, which results in incompatible implementations. Furthermore, content is regularly duplicated in order to be able to quote portions of the original document. By duplicating instead of virtually including content from the original resource, both the context and the reference to the source document are lost.

Although the new services seem to require new technologies, it emphasises the shortcomings of the Web. In the 1960s, Ted Nelson presented the concept of a hypertext system that supported multidirectional links, identification and location of content on the level of single characters, notification techniques, and the virtual inclusion of remote documents. The environment allowed for collaborative authoring, various of levels of access to documents, and had versioning functionality built-in.

Since then systems offering similar functionality as Xanadu have been implemented. The technologies were, however, not included into the infrastructure of the Web.

Conclusion and Future Research

Photo credit: Thomasz Trojanowski

"From chaos comes order" is an expression accredited to chaos theory. It can also be applied to the services introduced in this paper. Although the concept of wikis, for instance, might seem utterly chaotic, Wikipedia is the principal example that such an anarchic system can yield structure and to a certain extent even high quality content.

The new and successful Web services range from free encyclopaedias to free and independent news services, amateur radio shows, free and legal photo sharing tools and social networks. Since the attitude of professionals and non-professionals has changed in that they are willing to make their content available, hence still more collaborative services can be expected in the near future.

The emerging services, however, appear to be evolving into a "patchwork" of various autonomous or loosely connected, community-based systems, where the synergetic effects that could emanate may be neglected and lost. Therefore our future research will focus on integrating the key benefits of existing community-based systems such as weblogs, wikis and file sharing tools in a flexible framework for an open, collaborative environment on the Web.

The essential component of such a service will be an all-embracing social network that connects users and allows for communication in the system. Moreover, through the social network the system can be accountable. We are confident that our approach can lead to more resourceful communities, besides increasing their productivity. Details of the proposed concept will be described in an upcoming publication.

End of Part VII of 7

Read Part I: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, Social Networks And File Sharing: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part II: Introduction To Blogs - How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part III: Introduction To Wikis: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part IV: Introduction To Wikipedia And WikiNews: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part V: Podcasting and File Sharing: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part VI: Social Networks and Social Services: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Originally published as "The Transformation of the Web: How Emerging Communities Shape the Information we Consume", on by Josef Kolbitsch (Graz University of Technology, Austria), and Hermann Maurer (Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria) on August, 2006

About the authors

Josef Kolbitsch


Josef Kolbitsch holds a PhD in computer science from the Institute of Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria. He has conducted Several projects in the area of web-based database systems, information processing and information management systems for organisations including the Association of Telematic Engineers, the Association of Austrian Business Engineers, Graz University of Technology, and Lebenshilfe Steiermark. In addition he has been the Software trainer and personal technical trainer for Berufsförderungsinstitut Steiermark and Symantec Corporation(Auckland Branch), software license manager for Graz University of Technology, and an honorary research assistant at the Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Contact Information: josef.kolbitsch(at)

Hermann Maurer


Hermann Maurer holds a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Vienna. He has been teaching at various universities since 1966, and has been the director of the Research Institute for Applied Information Processing of the Austrian Computer Society 1983-1998; chairman of Institute for Information Processing and Computer Supported New Media since 1988, director of the Institute for Hypermedia Systems of Joannum research since 1990, director of the AWAC (Austrian Web Application Center) of the ARCS (Austrian Research Centers) 1997-2000, member of the board of OCG (√-sterreische Computergesellschaft) 1979-2003, founder and scientific advisor of the KNOW Center (K+ Center), the first research centre on Knowledge Management in Austria. Since January 2004 Hermann Maurer is the first dean of the newly formed Faculty for Computer Science at the Graz University of Technology.

Contact Information: hmaurer(at)

Josef Kolbitsch and Hermann Maurer -
Reference: Journal of Universal Computer Science [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2006-12-21 11:05:55

Robin Good

Thank you Dave! - Corrected

2006-12-21 10:48:44

Dave McLane

Great articles and I've been summarizing them in a hardcopy+online Newsmaster's Report for my site. However, I found the URL for part III and IV are the same: the one for part IV should be introduction_to_wikipedia_and_wikinews.htm



posted by Robin Good on Friday, December 15 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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