Aug 24

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Why Seth Godin's Web 2.0 Watch List Misses the Point

Seth Godin's Web 2.0 Watch List, built with alexaholic, is a fabulous idea. I wish I'd thought of it. Rankings are fun and thought-provoking, and as Seth figured, they also get lots of attention!

But Seth completely misses the point of Web 2.0 when he says "For our purposes, my definition is that most of these companies are, as the wikipedia says, sites that 'let people collaborate and share information online in a new way.' So, Google doesn't make the cut, because most of their traffic comes to their search engine. eBay is an "old" company, but the many-to-many nature of the site means that they do."

What a short-sighted definition! It seems to focus much more on the Web 1.0 aspect of explicit "community" than the web 2.0 concept of harnessing collective intelligence. If Google doesn't do this, I don't know who does! PageRank was a breakthrough in search because Google figured out that what people do (make links) is as important as what the documents contain. And Adsense is profoundly participatory. Amazon too is a master at harnessing participation but doesn't make Seth's list. Meanwhile, we see companies like pandora, which are purely algorithmic in their personalization, and zillow, which is database driven without any community features. These sites are incredibly useful applications, but Seth's list sure seems to draw the Web 2.0 boundary in some very odd ways.

In addition, even participation (both explicit and implicit) is only part of web 2.0. Can someone really say that Google Maps or Amazon's Simple Storage Service is not Web 2.0? And why are open source projects like Django and Drupal included but not Apache or Perl's CPAN, or sourceforge and slashdot? And if we're including invididual blogs, why and not techcrunch?

In short, this is a brilliant idea that needs some serious tweaking.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 15   | Sphere It

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Comments: 15

  seth godin [08.24.06 06:27 AM]

Hi Tim

I don't think I missed the point, I think I wasn't clear enough about what I was trying to do.

Your web2 meme has infected most everyone. If google and amazon and aol and MSN and the others are web 2.0, then the list is useless as a quick glance indicator of where the traffic is.

Instead, my goal was to add a little light to the hype about this web 2.0 company and that one... once the Diggers celebrate a company, it's easy to imagine it's really gaining traction (and vice versa) and the point of the list was to just pick a 1,000 piece handful and see what fell where.

We hope to expand the list... I encourage people to follow the link on the site and add their own.

Thanks for reading, and posting, Tim!

  Jason Yip [08.24.06 07:27 AM]

I have to say that I'm not clear what the point is. To me Web 2.0 isn't a concept, nor is Web 1.0. "Explicit community" and "harnessing collective intelligence" are concepts. Well, those phrases are actually still quite vague...

Your mention of Pandora helps me think about what I would prefer. I'd prefer some kind of breakdown of more detailed facets about what is considered "Web 2.0" and talking about those facets instead of this amorphous blob that is Web 2.0.

And what's the point of saying things like this application is incredibly useful but it's not Web 2.0? I would have thought the incredibly useful phenomenon is more interesting. Perhaps there are particular facets associated to some incredibly useful applications that we haven't really seen much of before and therefore it's worth looking into, being excited about, etc. But do we really care about drawing Web 1.0/2.0 boundaries? I'd rather care about useful/unuseful boundaries.

  David [08.24.06 07:44 AM]

Some more discussion on this over at Ian makes some great points I think you guys should think about.

  Tim O'Reilly [08.24.06 07:52 AM]

I hear you, Seth. But even with that argument, including the big guys who survived the dotcom crash because they exhibited Web 2.0 insights is a good idea -- gives a benchmark against which the newcomers can be measured!

I do know that it's hard to disambiguate some of the big portal sites for measurement, though. Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL offer a lot of services. Some match up to one part of the Web 2.0 ecosystem, while others don't. But I still think they're useful to include.

I also think the random selection of open source projects is quite odd.

I'll follow up with you and we can talk more next week.

  John Dowdell [08.24.06 08:22 AM]

We're fortunate today... in prior centuries there was "Yes, but is it art!?" and not many other such discussions.... ;-)

(The person presenting himself with the handle "Blind AJAX HATER" must have a highly developed sense of irony, judging by the way he uses divisiveness and polarization to decry divisiveness and polarization.)

  Jim Gaynor [08.24.06 09:02 AM]

Having lived through the previous boom-bust, I'm somewhat concerned with how much verbiage is being spent putting a label to the current expansion in web services. The "Web 2.0" tag has certainly taken on a life of its own - which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Granted, man is the creature that names things - and we all like having a catchphrase to describe what we're working on and aspire to. But it also makes what's happening that much easier to pigeonhole and dismiss ("Oh, they're another Web 2.0 venture."), and will grant an easy Tag Of Doom should another downturn occur, ("The latest Web 2.0 casualty closed its doors this morning...").

Perhaps, just perhaps, we're spending a bit too much time talking about running shoes (or in this case, debating what Web 2.0 means and who can use it) and not enough time running.

  Ron Pereira [08.24.06 11:41 AM]

Why take it offline Tim? That is so Web 1.0 and quite "board room" of you.

Continue the conversation here in the open. If you are going to call him out in the open, resolve it in the open.

Or, at the least, post the resolution after you hobnob at whatever event...

  Yoz [08.24.06 06:56 PM]

It's a cool idea, but one of the inadvertent problems is that - if I understand Alexa's workings correctly - sites that use Ajax more will have lower rankings since they do more work to avoid page loads, don't they?

  John Dowdell [08.24.06 07:28 PM]

(Ron, I don't think that's fair... "taking things off the public record" is one of the driving factors behind the party-oriented wing of the "Web 2.0" movement, for instance.)

  steve [08.25.06 04:49 AM]

> And what's the point of saying things like this application is

> incredibly useful but it's not Web 2.0? I would have thought

> the incredibly useful phenomenon is more interesting.

I agree with Jason Yip's point, quoted above. My perception, formed by the vague wash of information, is that "Web 2.0" is copyrighted or trademarked by Tim O'Reilly, therefore Tim has an interest in pushing the term as much as possible.

It is a catchy name, but it lacks usefulness because it lacks in precision. It doesn't describe anything and only functions as a sound that mirrors what's in the speaker's mind. There is no communication.

Unfortunately, the catchy phrase has a power that outweighs the message... "open source" is a better term than "free software", despite the latter's greater fundamental correctness. Then again, GNU are utilising the weight of the success of GPL2 to carry them into the GPL3 position.

Is Tim using the weight of O'Reilly books (of which the older ones have primary positioning in my bookshelf) to drive a branding push, making himself the owner of a valuable slice of mindshare, creating a position for himself in the new marketplace?

These concerns are valid business considerations, but there is another side to the equation. As a consumer, I find it personally objectionable for a business to modify people's vocabulary.

It damages human communication to have speech redefined to fit a business plan. When a trend taps out, it's not a "Web 2.0" defining entity anymore. When something is unexpectedly successful, it's automatically "Web 2.0" - somehow! Instead of looking in a dictionary to find out the meaning of a word, we have to ask the O'Reilly boardroom!

Domino's Pizza attempted to introduce a new word into the language, "puff" - meaning perfection. The intention was that everytime you wanted to say that something was great, you'd go "Oh, that's so puff" - and automatically have a mental association with perfect pizza from Domino's.

As someone who made their start in (other people's) precise use of the human language, is this really a direction you want to travel? Commercialisation of the human language, a tragedy of the commons in the making.

  Roland Sassen [08.25.06 07:24 AM]

Hi Tim, maybe Web 2 is where the user is center.
It will take some time to understand that a lot of people have fears. Look at the amount of people with a self-chosen nick-name. So to use the internet without fear the first step is to avoid malware. As soon as the user is center, she can decide what to do.
Roland Sassen

  Rune Wiggers Ecklon [08.25.06 10:01 AM]

Web 2.0 is a class that serves to incapsulate a lot things. its the naming of something that is still undefined but giving it a name serves a purpose. Who cares really if if its not possible to setup an equation for what web 2.0 is and is not. To me the most important thing about web 2.0 is not the singular methods or principles or the details its the change it respresents. 2.0 is a change that will span into other things than just the web. I believe it will be a small revolution for people and consumers.

  Brian Dear [08.27.06 09:53 AM]

Alexa's data has become very unreliable, and to rank lots of Web2.0 companies based on Alexa data is going to be a doomed undertaking.

I know for a fact that Alexa's data for my company is flat-out wrong (our site's usage is growing wildly, but if you relied on Alexa you would say the opposite). I have informed Alexa of this and their response was simply to promote the Alexa Toolbar to our customers so our Alexa stats would increase. Can you believe it?

  Joseph Hunkins [08.30.06 01:39 PM]

Right. Most importantly the core 2.0 concept is NOT about companies or business models - they are just the vehicles that move ideas along - it's about what in biology would be a sort of punctuated equilibrium event where change happens faster and is based on sweeping and global leveraging of data and collective intelligence. It's also cool.

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