If Everyone Thinks It's a Bubble, It's Not a Bubble

Our Web 2.0 conference is prompting all sorts of people to declare that the Bubble-with-a-capital-B is back, Web 2.0 is over, and here we go again. The only problem with this is, if everyone agrees it’s a bubble, then it isn’t a bubble.

The conference does, as Om notes, remind me of conferences in earlier days, but the comparison for me is how many people are actively looking for investments, and are willing to make speculative investments based on cool tech instead of clear markets. It’s a mistake, though, to say that the exuberance of 1999/2000 is back, or anywhere near it. That’s the easy story, the thing we want not to happen again (given the scale of the wipeout when that bubble burst) and want to be able to warn against. The easy story assumes, though, that everyone here has already forgotten what happened so recently.

It’s all they’re talking about here, how much it feels like the old days, and all the things that could possibly mean. Bill Gurley had a great line about the 2000-era bubble, that “a mania isn’t over until everyone believes in it.” Here at Web 2.0, no one believes the mania, at least not yet. No one thinks, as they did in 1999, that we’re looking at new technologies that will, say, wipe away bricks and mortar retailers and leave online businesses in their place. No one believes that old and powerful industries are about to be destroyed en masse by the rise of asynchronous Javascript or data as the Intel inside. These Web 2.0 markers are great developments, and are enabling great applications to get attention and immediately dominate the Web applications they replace. They’ve clearly valuable. As of yet, though, Web 2.0 is a revision of the Web and what has been built on it, not a revision of the world, which was the premise of the last bubble.

The excitement here is weird to see. It does make me wonder what’s to come. But I think it’s too early to declare a bubble, just because investors are excited again. Investors get excited professionally; bubbles require much more pervasive delusions.