Defining the Lazyweb

- - posted in Ancient Archives

I must emphasise that this is only my take on the lazyweb concept. The lazyweb is something I’ve been interested in for years, long before it had a name, and it’s about time I write something about it, even if it ends up as nonsense.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with lazyweb, you can read this earlier post about the origins of the word and

Invoking the Lazyweb: Lazyweb demand You can invoke the lazyweb by mentioning a new idea or need on the Internet. You could do this on your blog, on Usenet, a development site like Sourceforge, a bulletin board or forum, a mailing list, any social area of the Internet. You can choose to include your invocation in the feed. By publicly invoking the lazyweb you may get a faster result, as someone could see your request and decide to produce it. They may be already working on what you need, or it may already exist and they can tell you where it is.

However, you don’t have to publicly invoke the lazyweb. You don’t have to tell anyone. You don’t have to even realise you are invoking the lazyweb at all. The lazyweb is the way you receive something, not how you ask for it.

All you need to invoke the lazyweb is an idea or a requirement. Something that you can imagine. It could be an idea for a new type of website, a new way to use XML, or software to do a chore for you. Whatever the idea is, from the ìinventor’sî perspective it’s something currently unavailable that requires effort to create. After you’ve had your idea, you could pay someone to create it, or you could create it yourself. You could persuade a company to create it. Or you could just wait for the lazyweb to provide it.

If you have an idea or a need for something, it’s very likely that there will be other Internet users thinking along similar lines at about the same time. If everyone using the Internet was just a consumer, nothing much would happen. Fortunately many Internet users are both consumers and creators. If ìyourî idea occurs to someone who is a creator/consumer, there’s a good chance they’ll try to use the idea, maybe for fun, profit or just because they need it. To use the open source cliche: other people will have the same itch, and will probably start to scratch before you.

If you start your big, “unique” project, the chances are that someone else will launch “your” idea before you can. So, if you have six good ideas and only have time to work on one of them, don’t worry - the lazyweb will produce the other five for you.

Lazyweb delivery: Lazyweb supply The lazyweb isn’t just about things you invent appearing soon afterwards. It’s quite likely that what you have ìinventedî or searched for already exists, but you haven’t found it. Google is not infallible.

The lazyweb can still provide the goods. Other people are probably searching for the same thing, maybe for the same reasons you are. When Internet users find something obscure and unusual, something they’ve found after a long search, they often tell other people about it. As they are likely to be similar to you, they are likely to announce their find where you will see it. The lazyweb hands you the information you are seeking.

To take advantage of the lazyweb you need to keep your eyes open. Unless you discover that your idea has been created, the lazyweb is useless. Anywhere on the Internet with news and announcements can act as a conduit for the lazyweb. If you publicly invoke the lazyweb someone may contact you with the good news, but it’s mainly up to you to stay aware of new developments.

The network of blogs is a major conduit for the lazyweb. Software announcement sites like Freshmeat and VersionTracker, archives like CPAN and development sites like Sourceforge are specialised but highly effective conduits. Mailing lists, forums, chatrooms and other social areas are also good conduits. Portals and RSS/RDF aggregation and syndication tools make the delivery of lazyweb benefits much less hassle.

The more actively someone uses Internet technology, the more they can benefit from lazyweb.

The Lazyweb is not just about Open Source The lazyweb works best when it delivers free, openly licensed and shareable goods and services. Lazyweb creator/consumers tend to use open licences, and this is what the lazyweb consumer will usually prefer.

However, if the lazyweb process leads someone to sell the idea or not open the source code, I think this still qualifies as a lazyweb effect. The non-creative ìinventorsî still get a product they can use, although it may cost them money or they might not have free use of it.

This is likely to happen with hardware products. It’s easy to supply software and content freely, and near impossible with hardware.

Precedents for the Lazyweb People seem to like arguing about who invented something first. Sometimes a famous scientist or inventor is accused of not really being ìfirstî, as if this is scandalous. Often the debate runs along nationalist lines: did the Americans, British or Germans invent the first computer?

The dull truth is that people working independently but with similar interests and knowledge can come to the same conclusion at around the same time. Usually it’s the person with the best media connections who is recognised as the inventor or discoverer.

This is the same process as the lazyweb. The key difference is scale. The Internet allows information and ideas to spread and evolve very rapidly. The 19th Century ìage of inventionî produced many parallel inventions from a relatively small number of participants with very limited communication. The Internet binds together very large communities of similar people with instant communication. The rate of creative coincidences accelerates as many people have the same idea at the same time. It only takes one person to have the idea and begin work on it for the lazyweb to provide all the others with what they were after, soon after they think of it.

Many different lazywebs I think that the lazyweb concept is more than just a neat side effect of the Internet. It can be seen as an economic system, a model of supply and demand quite different to that of free and planned economic models. It’s also more than just a gift economy, as it can accurately satisfy consumer demand.

The lazyweb cannot provide goods and services to everyone with equal effectiveness. The efficiency of the lazyweb depends on a number of factors. I don’t want to claim any definite list of requirements, but there are some things which are clearly important:

  • The lazyweb effect has cultural boundaries. People need to share similar language, interests, and communication forums. This means that there are many separate or overlapping lazywebs with different characteristics.

  • Gift culture. The lazyweb is not going to work very well if people aren’t willing to share. The higher a community’s tendency to hoard information and seek personal profit, the weaker the lazyweb will be.

  • Low barriers to creativity. The lazyweb will provide software very effectively, as anyone with a computer has the means to write software and distribute software. The only cost is time. The lazyweb will not provide interstellar space travel very effectively, not unless a lot of people have a really, really good idea.

  • A high proportion of creator/consumers to consumers. The lazyweb needs a relatively large proportion of consumers who are also able and willing to create what they consume. If very few people in a group are willing to act on their ideas, then the lazyweb will be very weak. Ironicly, if everyone relies on the lazyweb too much, it fails.

  • The better a group uses the Internet, the more benefit they will get from the lazyweb. Portal and news sites, chatrooms, RSS channels, blogs and mailing lists all drive the lazyweb. The lazyweb is no use if you can’t find out what it’s offering you.

This means that the more confident and open early adopters of Internet technology will get the first and best lazyweb benefits. The strongest lazyweb economy is the Open Source software community. Over time, as more communities grow and make better use of Internet technology, they will also experience the lazyweb effect.