Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What I don't like about Web 2.0

Web 2.0 makes so much sense. I really like the concept, and its implications on how it can affect organizations. However, the term has hit controversies for stupid reasons, and I am not entirely sure that I ever liked the momentum that the term gained in the first place.

But what was it that made us identify one application or approach as "Web 1.0" and another as "Web 2.0"? (The question is particularly urgent because the Web 2.0 meme has become so widespread that companies are now pasting it on as a marketing buzzword, with no real understanding of just what it means. The question is particularly difficult because many of those buzzword-addicted startups are definitely not Web 2.0, while some of the applications we identified as Web 2.0, like Napster and BitTorrent, are not even properly web applications!) We began trying to tease out the principles that are demonstrated in one way or another by the success stories of web 1.0 and by the most interesting of the new applications.
The bolded section is the problem. So you may conclude that my problem is not with Web 2.0 itself, but actually, how people misuse the term. However, no. Look deeper. Tim O'Reilly's excellent definition article on Web 2.0 is a great explanation of what Web 2.0 is. However, I would argue that unless you care to look deeply, Web 2.0 is too vague a term to actually differentiate itself. In fact, at first glance, it looks to me like it was created by a bunch of air-headed sociologists who wanted to try to sound intelligent about the implications of technology without understanding the underlying concepts. That happens too often, as it is.

I love how O'Reilly clarifies his stance on the genericization arguments, especially how he notes that current widespread use of the Web 2.0 term is outside the scope of the trademark (which in turn implies that the trademark still holds within its own scope). Using a classic Web 2.0 medium, we can see that his point holds true. Ironically, I wonder if actually Google, the poster boy company of Web 2.0, is in danger of being genericized:
For example, one risk factor which may lead to genericide is the use of a trademark as a verb, noun, plural or possessive, unless the mark itself is possessive or plural (eg. "Friendly's" restaurants).
Hehe, you know Google did make the dictionary as a verb, right? ;)

OK, so O'Reilly explains himself and his stance on Web 2.0. He explains the situation they are facing, how that situation arose, and what they are doing to resolve the situation. Yes, a lot of the world seems to be irrationally lashing out without understanding the entire situation.

But my question is...

Why does any of it matter? Seriously. Most of the people I've heard talk about Web 2.0 don't really understand it. And a lot of the people I know who actually work in this industry have never heard of it. Which is why the term is so stupid to me. It was taken by a mass of people who didn't know what they were talking about and showcased as the revolution that would fulfill the web's potential and overcome the pitfalls of the first dotcom era. And none of these brainless masses would have any idea how any of it actually worked; they think that Web 2.0 is some magic box that will transform cultures automatically. In the end, they just want to sound smart.

Stupid Conversation:
Web 2.0 Sociologist: Web 2.0 lets you communicate with everyone intimately in real conversations that let you build teamwork, find the special gems hidden in the long tail, and ensure transparency!
Guy on the Street: Whoah! How can I take advantage of that at my company??
Web 2.0 Sociologist: Well, just set up some blogs and a 6-degrees network, and you'll be set to go!
Guy on the Street: Cool! It's that easy?? So what do I have to do to set it up??
Web 2.0 Sociologist: Uh... I'm not sure. But don't worry, as soon as you have it set up, it'll work great. Just talk with a technical guy. I'm just a visionary, man. Don't let the idea man do the dirty work, the idea man has more important stuff to do!
Guy on the Street: No doubt! Wow, thanks!

Good Conversation:
Web 2.0 Developer: Well, I can make you a wiki that will let you easily maintain and transfer knowledge from project team to project team. This will improve your ability to solve problems as they arise because the project's information will be organized, well-documented, and easily searchable.
Guy on the Street: Wow, that sounds really good. My teams at work all have a really hard time trying to keep track of project information, especially for large projects! Is this one of those Web 2.0 things??
Web 2.0 Developer: Uh, what's Web 2.0?
Guy on the Street: Oh, never mind... well, I guess just set it up for us, and I'm sure our project success rates will go through the roof!
Web 2.0 Developer: Uh, well, you need to make sure that your people actually use it properly. Wikis do have their advantages, but any new technology can't solve problems on its own.
Guy on the Street: Dang, this really isn't Web 2.0 then. This really smart guy told me that Web 2.0 was really revolutionary and would have a huge impact.

I meet too many sociologists.

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