Something remarkable happened on the Web during the last few years. Initially the Web was like a spectator sport where millions of us sat around the stadium and watched the creation of a small number of people. That picture started changing a few years ago when a large number of us got off our seats and walked into the playing field. We were not passive spectators any more, and quickly realized while it is enjoyable to watch the game, it is lot more fun to play it too. Today many of us actively change the Web almost every day by writing blogs, commenting on them, exchanging notes through Facebook and Twitter, posting our photographs and videos, writing product reviews, or simply by voting on something. What was strictly a read-only medium became a read-write medium. What was a passive activity became an active one. The growth of Web 2.0 has been phenomenal and spectacular.
During all this time the number of people on the web has been growing steadily. According to internetworldstats.com, the number of web users across the world is 1.7 billion in 2010, and Facebook, by far the most popular social media site, have nearly 500 million users. Therefore, the percentage of web users who are on Facebook is about 29%. The web metrics company Alexa also estimates that 34% of all web users are on Facebook. This is a jaw-dropping number, and far exceeds any other social media site, including Twitter, which enjoys less than 7% of all Web users (see Alexa graph).
According to Technorati there are 133 million blogs out there, which also translates to 7% of Web users. However, in spite of the great success of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social media sites, we cannot ignore the fact that most people are still sitting on the spectator stands. The exact percentage is hard to determine, but since there is a large overlap between the people who are involved in these various social media sites, the total number is not expected to be much larger than those who are on Facebook. Therefore somewhere between 60% and 70% of web users are still using the Web as a read-only media.
So what could be the factors that would stop some people, and by current indications a majority of the web population, from using the web as a two-way street?
Technology barrier: A large number of web users are still not totally comfortable with the technology. They have learned how to browse the web or send emails, but they don’t go any further. They don’t shop, they don’t join communities, they don’t play online games – in short they use it as a read-only device and never fill out a web form.
Security and Privacy concerns: A significant number of people believe putting any information on the web is inherently risky as it may compromise their personal data and their privacy.
Reluctance to share: Many of us do not like the idea of sharing their opinions and conversations in any public forum. This aversion to public discourse is sometimes a result of shyness, and sometimes it is simply a matter of personal taste. This is particularly prevalent among people who grew up in the pre-internet era.
Reluctance to commit: Many people do not feel the need to communicate with the world on a regular basis. However, it is hard to imagine, given the right platform, there is anyone out there who never feels the urge to say something. For these people, there is no strong urge to setup a blog and make the commitment for those few rare moments when they feel like posting something on the Web.
Whatever the factors may be, there is no denying that a majority of web users are still using the web as a read-only source (the unoccupied green area in the diagram to the left). To realize the full potential of the web, it is desirable that a larger fraction of the “rest” engages in the two-way discourse through some form of social media.
More and more people are joining Facebook, and this trend is likely to continue. However, there are many people who are not satisfied exchanging brief notes among personal friends, and would rather communicate to the larger world when they have something to say. Some of them may find formats like Twitter, with its 140 character limit, very restrictive. Therefore, the current set of tools may not accomplish this goal, and we need other platforms to emerge.
Due to the phenomenal success of services like Facebook and Twitter, we are seeing a deluge of other social media services. However, if you look at them carefully, almost all of them cater to narrow vertical groups, each trying to steal away users from other services, or offer the same set of people something additional. Most of these new services are targeting the same set of people who are already part of the read-write Web, and not offering much that would encourage the rest to join, which is why services like JotPress help remove the barrier for people to look at the Web as a medium to Communicate effectively instead of simply becoming a part of a global broadcast, of which they are just listeners.