The Network in 2008

This year Web 2.0 came of age. Blogs, wikis, photo sharing, video sharing, social networking, social this, social that, SaaS: all these services have developed at phenomenal pace. In particular, the Facebook craze burst out of its collegiate limitations and has gained traction even amongst lawyers; at the SCL conference in June, half the delegates declared themselves Facebookers. We’ve seen a significant shift from the publisher-centric Web 1.0 to the user-centric Web 2.0 and this can only continue, but at what pace and how will it affect the law and lawyers in the coming year?

If 2007 was the year when social networking entered the consciousness of grown-ups (lawyers included), 2008 will be the year when its relevance beyond socialising or business networking is tested and found wanting. We want to do so much more than follow our “friends” or establish business contacts. Facebook, despite a stellar year of growth since opening up to all-comers, has not demonstrated that it is or can be much more than a much larger and more profitable version of what it was before; neither has LinkedIn, preferred by many as the platform for business networking.

The nub of it is that these social networks are walled gardens and the aspects of the social graph (the connections between people) that they exploit so effectively are just a small part of the larger social graph and an even smaller part of the “Giant Global Graph” (the connections between everything and everyone) towards which the web is evolving. The web is the real platform; everything else is just an application.

Think of the web of the future as one giant relational database, with data maintained by those who own it (that’s you and me in respect of our personal profiles and collections, organisations in respect of their products and services, etc); made available via open standards, with permissions determined by the owners; and aggregated and leveraged by those with expertise in particular technologies (the Googles and the Facebooks) or “verticals” (the publishers).

Facebook et al may command the headlines and be sitting on mountains of data about us, commanding silly valuations; they will continue to prosper, but there is room on the web for anyone with particular expertise and as to what Web 2.0 can do for lawyers, we should be looking elsewhere.

In 2008 we’ll see the incumbent law publishers experimenting with Web 2.0, attempting to engage users on their own platforms. We already have LexisNexis’s Company Law Forum, and PLC talk of doing similar, but in a more controlled environment. We’ll also see more Web 2.0 initiatives from “independents” such as CaseCheck and the prospective grand IP Law Wiki. Given the small size of the UK legal community and its inherent conservatism, it’s unlikely that any of these services will gain substantial followings within the year, but they are the ones to watch.

And let’s not forget the blogosphere. Because it is now old hat, blogging may be thought “so yesterday”. But consider that you find more useful work-related conversations on a single law blog than you do on the whole of Facebook and that lawyers, their colleagues and associates and their potential clients network on blogs every day. Blogging is the most successful and relevant Web 2.0 network and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

4 thoughts on “The Network in 2008

  1. Nice post Nick.

    I agree with your thoughts on blogging, and how we may be re-visiting in ’08. There’s a lot of value in personal publishing and we should watch the trap of becoming someone else’s user driven content. Everyone needs a home, somewhere to point to… Skipping the step of a personal blog in favour of a social networking presence can leave a noticeable gap in defining who you are online.

  2. Very interesting post Nick

    I shall continue to blawg, in my own way, because I enjoy it. Podcasts have been a very useful addition to blogging – surprisingly high number of downloads.

    It will be interesting to see how UK blawgers develop in 2008


  3. Interesting post!

    After a recent discussion at a professional meeting, we were left stumped as to how we could either use, or justify accessing Facebook, or any of the other social networking sites in work. I don’t see that these sorts of sites can sustain their growth at the rate they have been, there’s just so little to really ‘use’ on them at the moment.
    Blogs are definitely still my main port of call for news, discussions etc, and probably will be for a good while yet, while keeping an eye on the new initiatives…

  4. I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for a couple of years now, and still have to find a real use for it. I can see that a Facebook-like application, brought inside an organisation, could become a great way for truly enormous organisations to help people find subject-matter experts. The problem, of course, is that all of these platforms require someone to maintain their profile, contribute data, and seek out linkages. Will the gurus in a busy firm bother?

    — Wendy

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