Richard Smith: Web 2.0 overtakes Web 1.0: get with it

Richard SmithLast week in the United States Facebook for the first time had more traffic than Google. This is hugely significant and shows how interacting is taking over from searching on the internet. What’s more, Facebook’s traffic is increasing steeply, whereas Google’s traffic is largely static. Soon Facebook will be way ahead.

Lifecycles can be very short on the internet, and Facebook might itself be overtaken soon—perhaps by Twitter, which is coming up fast. What the change probably does signify, however, is that the days of simply using the internet passively to access or find information are ending. The internet is now about relationships and interaction. This has profound implications for everybody, including journals, traditional media, politicians, and doctors.

You can’t sit back as an authority and wait for the world to come to you. You need to be out there fighting to get peoples’ attention and to shape the world. Otherwise, you may find yourself like a White Russian—sat in Paris sipping a cocktail and wondering whatever happened to your political influence back home.

Many BMJ readers, particularly the more mature ones, might immediately think that they’d much prefer to be sipping cocktails in Paris than grappling with the Bolsheviks back in Moscow. And so be it, but you are then part of the past—wiling away your hours until death gathers you up.

Yet far too many of the people over 50 that I meet turn their noses up at social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter: “they are for young people, timewasters full of trivia.” Well, they aren’t: they are a toehold in the future. If you are one of those people who reluctantly began to use keyboards, email, and the internet and hoped that would be enough, you’re wrong. You now have to make the next step and join a social networking site—or head for the cocktails in Paris.

And here’s a chance to try out the future relatively painlessly. Are you interested in global health?  (If you’re not that’s another signal for cocktails.) Assuming that you are, I urge you to join the web debate on whether non-communicable diseases should be incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals. Increasingly this will be the model for creating documents. Instead of one or two authors creating a document and the rest of the world responding (or not responding) after publication, we will create documents together—capturing the wisdom of the many not just the few.