Saturday, 18 April 2009

Graffiti the forefather of Web2.0


Many of us associate graffiti with rebellion, poverty, gangs and other urban malaise. We have little or no respect for it, consider it as an eye sore and something that degrades our urban cities.

Recently I got interested in this form of art and did a little research and came to realize that graffiti art has a lot in common with web2.0. OK – you are now thinking I am completely crazy. Maybe! But please read on to find out the reasoning behind this crazy idea.

Web2.0 tools allow us to create an identity for ourselves and to take a social position in the virtual world. Our virtual identity may be something completely different from our real life identity. Well surprise surprise, graffitis do the same thing. Graffiti artists through their art project an alternative image of themselves and construct an identity for themselves by adopting specific style.

As I was reading about this form of art, I came to know that graffiti artists sign their piece of art with a "tag". Yes, with a "tag". In graffiti art, tags correspond to the signature of the artist. Taggers or bombers are known, judged and respected for the quantity of tags they have up. The tag name conveys an attitude and plays an important role in the process of constructing an identity.

Does that sound familiar? Think of your delicious bookmarks, think of all your tags, be it in delicious, twitter or your blog. Do not they tell the others about you – the tags, bookmarks, blogs and tweets you follow give an indication of who you are and what you are interested in.

The first type of known graffiti art dates back to 1st century in Pompei, so this means that tagging existed well before Web2.0. As the French say: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"!

Web2.0 is based on collaboration and also competition. Well this is incredibly similar to how graffiti artists work, because their work too is based both on collaboration and competition which leads to the creativity of graffiti art. In other words someone starts a creative piece of work and others tag along, complement it, add to it, change it… it is work in progress. Is not this the underlying philosophy of wikis and wikipedia?

Graffiti art and Web2.0 are based on eternally ongoing conversations. Is not true that we continuously tweet, we keep blogging, we comment on other people's blog posts, we comment on articles posted in the on-line media, we add to and enhance our favourite social networking site…what we are doing is having conversations with a crowd and this conversation never comes to an end and is continues to be work in progress

Web2.0 paradigm and tools are allowing those with access to internet to have a voice. As a result we have the privilege of hearing the voices of a crowd and benefitting from a wide variety of opinions, views and insights. We are no longer confined to hearing just the voice of a select few, but we can actually choose who we want to listen to.

Graffiti artists like bloggers, tweeters and social network freaks have their own criteria for judging the quality and effectiveness of their contribution. Graffiti artists compete with each other because they are in search of respect, recognition, want to make a name for themselves – in other words they are looking for their 15 minutes of fame…. It is subculture fuelled by competition and divided by status.

Is not this somewhat similar to the number of followers on blogs, twitter, friends on facebook, number connections on linkedin? Is not similar to whether Technorati has ranked your blog as an authority or not?

Graffiti artists are underground celebrities, just as famous bloggers or tweet freaks are virtual celebrities. Couple of years ago I met one of these virtual celebrities in person. I tell you, it was as if I had met Brad Pitt. I was so excited and felt honoured and privileged to have a 30 minute conversation with this famous blogger and as result I missed my photo opportunity!

While it is true that graffitis date back to 1st century, however as a form of art it was never mainstreamed and continues to have a life on the "fast-lane". Web2.0 on the other hand is becoming more and more mainstream. While this may be good from certain aspects, it is not good from other aspects, as it may end up stifling creativity and risk become bland and no more cutting edge and we may risk giving up "life on the fast track" for something mundane.

Our challenge is to make sure the Web2.0 paradigm continues to live on the "fast lane" so that it can continue to foster creativity and create bigger and better opportunities for collaboration, competition and innovation.
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