Peeking into Web2.0 Culture
By Andrew Bann

There is a cultural revolution going on right now, and it’s not in the streets but in the ever increasing web of the thing we call the Internet. The last year and a half has seen a drastic change in how the World Wide Web works and how we experience and create it. The term for this transition is ‘Web2.0’ and the main idea behind it is that we the users are creating the content. We create our MySpace profiles, we add articles to public encyclopedia Wikipedia, and we upload videos of our own creation onto YouTube. Growing numbers of people from all walks of life are experiencing more of the virtual world than just instant messaging and e-mail; actual communities with their own cultures, beliefs, ideals, and morals are forming. How people interact while on the Internet can be vastly different from how they act in the real world. The Internet is quickly becoming its own world where people make real connections in a virtual environment, sometimes with drastic results.

MySpace, the social networking site, has become a haven for finding people you lost touch with and reconnecting with them, thus reminding you why you lost touch in the first place. It is a website where people find others for dating and friendship (or at least to add them to their friends list so they can look like they are more popular than they are), search for their favorite bands so they can add annoying music onto their page, and of course upload pictures taken at extreme angles to either be artistic or hide unattractive features (like goiters). A list called “The Truth about Myspace” featuring different types of MySpace pics and what they can mean is widely available on the Internet, with such categories as ‘blurry’, ‘extreme angle’, ‘eyes-only’, and ‘obvious photo of “the goods”’. Examples of the list’s validity can be found on nearly every profile on MySpace, though it might just be most people don’t know how to use a damn camera and not a cultural norm for the site.

Of course to have a really cool profile it has to be customized. An entire sublet of sites dedicated to helping users edit their MySpace page has sprung up. Using these templates people can change the background of their page, add slideshows and videos, change the font and generally do things that others have to wait forever to load just to see the damn webpage. Yes indeed, the ability to literally waste minutes of your friends’ time so your five hundred different videos, pictures, virtual pets, and super neon pink background can load up is exciting and necessary. After all, how are people going to remember you if your MySpace page is just like everyone else’s?

And that is important, making sure people remember you on MySpace. The Friend’s List on MySpace is the new popularity contest for the Digital Age. Friend requests from everyone you ever passed by on the street come in daily, people bent on increasing their numbers of friends for some sick validation that comes with seeing nine thousand people on your list. Of course for some, like Tila Tequila who has the biggest Friend’s List on MySpace (nothing to do with her willingness to pose nude I’m sure), the Friend’s List is a jumping board to a career in music, film, or writing and so adding every Tom, Dick, and Spammer is important to that continued dream of success. The best part is that most of these friends are people that will never actually interact, even people who knew each other from high school will add each other to their friend’s lists and never speak again, the goal being not actual interaction it seems, unless of course you count blogs.

Blogs are Internet diaries that people post, letting others know how they are doing, what they’re thinking and all that other shit bloggers think their friends care about but really don’t. If opinions are like assholes and everyone has one, blogging has ensured that anyone can release their mental bowels to the public with glee. Blogging also tends to get emotional most of the time, which has earned Myspace the nickname EmoSpace from all the stories of teenage angst and pain that exist. All joking aside though, these blogs can also be calls for help, as more than one person has used MySpace to announce an attempt at suicide or to chronicle a story of abuse. One teenage boy who blogged about his homosexuality and hid it from his ultra-religious parents received national attention when he posted about how he was being sent to a religious camp to exorcise the gay out of him or whatever whack job idea is behind such nonsense. Blogs are a way to vent frustrations, seek advice, and celebrate success, but they are also a way for another Internet culture to get their kicks through what is coined as ‘trolling’.

Trolls are nothing new to the Internet, there have always been people who attack others and spew insults and laugh at others’ misfortunes. The theory is that any time you give any normal person anonymity and an audience they’ll become fuckwads, hence the name the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory. But with Web2.0 an actual community of these kinds of users has cropped up and become a sort of anti-Web2.0 movement. A website that parodies Wikipedia called Encyclopedia Dramatica is a haven for these Internet bullies, where they chronicle their exploits and defame people they find worthy of hating. On the popular video site, YouTube many vlogs (a vlog is a blog but instead of writting the person records themselves on video) are filled with negative comments that run the spectrum from slightly offensive to the kind of verbal shitstorm borne solely from a vile kind of hatred. MySpace tends to avoid much of this because of the way friends only can comment on blogs. Still, trolls have found ways now and again to hack into an account of someone they don’t like and vandalize it.

There are several reasons as to why these trolls choose to live their virtual lives in such a way that seems offensive to others (or, you know, everyone but them). The creators of Encyclopedia Dramatica use the term ‘doin’ it for the lulz’ which is geek speak for saying it is a source of humor for them. Certainly the disconnect between real life and online life has led them to believe that anything that happens on the Internet has no real consequences and is only meant for entertainment and not to be taken seriously (another popular phrase is the sarcastic statement “The Internet is serious business”). For these Internet denizens the fact that others would take the Internet seriously is a sign of weakness that needs to be mocked, though some are hostile for the sake of being hostile. This culture acknowledges and embraces the bully inside everyone and uses it against those who are not used to switching their emotional mindset between the Internet and real life. It is a kind of culture clash where one side sees the web as a sandbox void of social standards, real life morality, and obligation. The other side either embraces the Internet as an extension of real life or at least expects common civility to exist even on the Internet.

This kind of cultural division is only part of the growing communities and relationships spawning from the revolution of Web2.0. In fact, there is more than just MySpace and Encyclopedia Dramatica in the world of Web2.0, but the scope is so vast as to require a novel to accurately portray all the subtleties and mores that are evolving over the World Wide Web. While porn and spam will always play important roles in the experience, there are new and exciting changes happening in this little virtual community called the Internet. As more people become involved in the user-created world of Web2.0 one can only guess as to what kind of cultures may sprout and how they’ll fit into a reality that is getting less virtual by the day.