Not 2.0?

Tim Bray writes:

I just wanted to say how much I’ve come to dislike this “Web 2.0” faux-meme. It’s not only vacuous marketing hype, it can’t possibly be right. In terms of qualitative changes of everyone’s experience of the Web, the first happened when Google hit its stride and suddenly search was useful for, and used by, everyone every day. The second—syndication and blogging turning the Web from a library into an event stream—is in the middle of happening. So a lot of us are already on 3.0. Anyhow, I think Usenet might have been the real 1.0. But most times, the whole thing still feels like a shaky early beta to me.

While being completely right in the details (we are quite arguably on 3.0 or even 8.0 if we’re thinking about the internet compared to other software versioning), Tim is completely wrong about the big picture. Memes are almost always “marketing hype” — bumper stickers is a better way to say it — but they tend to catch on only if they capture some bit of the zeitgeist. The reason that the term “Web 2.0” has been bandied about so much since Dale Dougherty came up with it a year and a half ago in a conference planning session (leading to our Web 2.0 Conference) is because it does capture the widespread sense that there’s something qualitatively different about today’s web.


Kevin Kelly wrote about this change at length in an article in the current issue of Wired: the key to success in this next stage of the web’s evolution is leveraging collective intelligence. And yes, Google’s introduction of page rank was absolutely a milestone in this evolution of the web, but what was once an isolated stroke of genius is now being understood as one of the keys to the new paradigm. There’s a set of “Web 2.0 design patterns” — architecting systems so that they get smarter the more people use them, monetizing the long tail via a combination of customer-self service and algorithmic management, lightweight business models made possible by cooperating internet services and data syndication, data as the “intel inside”, and so on.

More immediately, Web 2.0 is the era when people have come to realize that it’s not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web. Web 1.0 was the era when people could think that Netscape (a software company) was the contender for the computer industry crown; Web 2.0 is the era when people are recognizing that leadership in the computer industry has passed from traditional software companies to a new kind of internet service company. The net has replaced the PC as the platform that matters, just as the PC replaced the mainframe and minicomputer.

You have to remember that every revolution occurs in stages, and often isn’t recognized till long after the new world is in place. The PC revolution began in the early 80s, and most of the key PC companies and technology innovations were founded in that decade, but it wasn’t till the mid-90s that the new shape of the computer industry was clear to everyone. The Microsoft-Netscape equivalent of the 80’s was the debate about whether ATT’s entry into the computer industry would dethrone IBM. The crucial choices had already been made, though, that set the course for the Wintel-dominated industry of the 90s. Similarly, the writing was on the wall when Yahoo!, EBay, Amazon, Google and other web giants were started in the mid-90s. We’re now at a stage equivalent to the period in the PC market when people were debating whether OS2 or Windows was the operating system of the future.

Perhaps I’m biased, because O’Reilly was the source and has been one of the biggest promoters of the Web 2.0 meme, but I think it captures exactly where we are at this moment: a widespread awakening to the fact that the game has changed. There might be a better name (I tried “internet operating system” on for size starting back in 2000), but the fact that Web 2.0 has caught on says that it’s as good a term as any. While the patterns that constitute Web 2.0 are far from completely understood, there’s a kind of intuitive recognition of sites that are expressing the new model. (For example, at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum last March, after presentations by two startups showing shared calendaring services, I overheard one attendee say to another, “xxx is so Web 1.0, and yyy is so Web 2.0” and the other attendee knew exactly what he meant. A meme is a pointer, and as long as it points in the right direction, so that the listener recognizes what is being pointed at, it works.)

I guess it’s the old debate between language purists, and language pragmatists. The right words are the ones people actually use, and this word is catching on.