Nov 27

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Why Web 2.0 is More Than a Buzzword

Kathy Sierra just published a brilliant post entitled Why Web 2.0 is More Than a Buzzword. She takes off on the controversy about whether or not there's meat on the Web 2.0 bone with an extended rumination on the value of jargon, which she distinguishes from meaningless buzzwords:

"Where buzzwords are used to impress or mislead, jargon is used to communicate more efficiently and interestingly with others who share a similar level of knowledge and skills in a specific area.... It's not about elitism--it's about efficiency. It's not about impressing others--it's about a shared understanding of specific concepts. It's about being able to talk about ideas or processes or even parts with fewer words and (potentially) greater meaning. If two heart surgeons debate the merits of a new medical procedure, I'd be lost. Hell, I'm over my head when the conversation turns to cooking. But I can talk about cantles and pommels, and I know exactly what topline means in the context of collection. And I can talk about recursion and dependency-injection and backward-chaining. Just don't ask me how to carmelize.

Dinner conversations around my house often are about one of those two things--programming or horses--and most non-horse, non-developer folks might wonder if we're just making s*** up. But if you took away our jargon, the conversations would not just be slower, they'd be dumber. "

Kathy ends with a fabulous pop quiz:

"Think of all the other words or phrases that mean nothing to us simply because we're not in that profession or hobby. Pop Quiz: From which domains do these sets of words or phrases come from?"

Take her quiz. You'll get the point.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 15   | Sphere It

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Comments: 15

  innonate [11.27.06 11:52 AM]

Tim, I read her post and understand her point at the end. But I think the point is off a bit: there are niche terms that mean something specific and technical -- that's why they need an efficient proprietary term like "caramelize" -- but "Web 2.0", in your famous description, is neither specific nor technical, but more broad and fluid. Web 2.0 last year means something different than Web 2.0 this year, and I think those of us reluctant to use the term too often are reluctant because of its transformative qualities. (For instance, when I talk about a project I'm working on, I find it much easier to say "user generated content" and "crowd intelligence" instead of "Web 2.0").

  Evert [11.27.06 11:54 AM]

If 'web 2.0' was given a more sales/marketing-style name instead of a technical, it wouldn't get so much critique.

There's nothing technical about web 2.0.. We're still using TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, JavaScript and the little changed that have happened over the last 10 years were mostly in the latter two.

Perhaps 'The second internet bubble' would be more appropriate

  steve [11.27.06 02:17 PM]

Web 2.0 - follow the money

With so much crap on the Internet, I'm not sure why the phrase "Web 2.0" annoys me so much. I have a bunch of RSS feeds, and articles occasionally filter through that point to O'Reilly's Radar, where Web 2.0 is the all-singing all-dancing onset of the Singularity. This crap is supposed to let us find that Z16 covered HS1-3, with a normal HS1 having C and some D, and HS2 having C,D,B and an HS3 having ABCD plus a sense of God.


Unlike most on the Internet, I've been around since the start. My first memory of Tim was the outrage in the community when he found some free documentation, printed them and charged money for it. RMS and others pointed out that this was the service part of the GPL, but then Tim did something else... he added chapters that were copyright, and didn't release the text back to the community.

O'Reilly's Radar announces that it follows the alpha geeks to work out where the future is going, and then it talks to CEOs and marketing types - who are the last people in the world that you should ask when you want an informed opinion. Their jobs are to boost company value, and every word that comes out of their mouths should be considered as informative as Britney's claims to be a virgin.

Web 2.0! Community building! Mantras of compelling technical terms! Stuff that means stuff all, other than a gross abuse of jargon to imply more than the narrow scope that was intended. Tim loves that shit, Z16, HS1-3, and all. So do the various suits that have jobs riding on bamboozling the public for long enough to extract some money from their gullible little pockets.

I might not be a lot of other things, but there is one thing that I really am. I'm an alpha geek, and I am technically qualified to cut through the crap and analyse the factors that are really relevant. I'm the sales guys' worst nightmare - a shabby slob that wanders in and kills off hundred million dollar deals because I insist on fitting requirements to performance.

Trust me (as much as you can trust anyone on the Net) - I know my shit, and I know far far more about the Net and its technologies and capabilities than Tim O'Reilly does. Why would you ask a book editor about programming or networking? Isn't that like asking a butcher how you would do brain surgery? Ask Tim about paper thickness or offset printing.

The genesis of Web 2.0 was the idea of putting a label onto whatever it was that was supposedly new about whatever it is that is happening. The crash was over, so how to talk about what people are doing now, as opposed to what they were doing before? Let's slap a label on that, trademark it, then sell it as the term for whatever it is that is however they're doing something that somehow wasn't dot.bomb.

I'm not just being snide, even though I am being snide. This process is like taking the top 100 companies, and labelling whatever they're doing as "CEO 2.0". What do IBM and Microsoft have in common? Are they doing anything the same as Sony? What about Toyota? That's CEO 2.0! When Walmart and McDonalds agree on something, that's CEO 2.0!

The sheer fatuousness of this "label by example" approach becomes evident when you try and apply it to anything else except a new group of unknowns with unknown factors and unknown outcomes. Throw in a bunch of definitions that were actually defined and commonly known by other names, and you have yourself a crackpot theory that synergises and recontextualises e-strategising paradigms.

What a catchy name though! Web 2.0! So catchy that Version 2.0 was an album by Garbage... way way back in 1998. Very ironic, in the so-ironic-its-true meaning of the word. Web 2.0 is supposed to have a gravitational core, not a meaning... and that's so dumb that even I couldn't have thought of that one - read the article from O'Reilly to see that claim!

So enough of the head kicking. It's Shabby Slob time, with very simple questions that offer no room for grandiloquent marketing.

What's new?

The use of a single command in Javascript that enables AJAX style webpages.

What's different?

Users add their own information.

What's better?

Not a lot - the information could be lies.

So why is there all this fuss and rubbish and continuous barraging of the media with a term that has no defined meaning?

Because O'Reilly and CMP own the trademark, and stand to make money from selling this badly defined grouping of concepts to CEOs and other ignorant people who nevertheless have a great deal of money to pay to O'Reilly and CMP. Ask a CEO... it's not a hell of a lot different from submitting your questions to Ask a Ninja.

This year, the gravitational core of Web 2.0 is there, next year it's over there, the year after it's disappeared into crash 2.0.

Follow the money. You'll get the point.

  jake [11.27.06 02:25 PM]

STOP! PLEASE STOP, TIM! YOU'RE RUINING THE INTERNET! Thanks for creating another stupid script kiddie buzzword.

It is a buzzword, plain and simple.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.27.06 07:24 PM]

Innonate -- I'm not sure I agree with your thought that Web 2.0 means something different this year than last. I do hear you that it's such an umbrella term that there are times when "user generated content" or some other more specific term is useful. But I still believe that broad concepts are important, especially in changing times.

Take your preferred "user generated content." It's only a tiny part of my preferred "harnessing collective intelligence," which includes but is not limited to user-generated content. For example, Google PageRank is clearly "HCI" but not "UGC." Even EBay or CraigsList are outliers for UGC, but clearly central to HCI.

And Web 2.0, as an umbrella term, has a lot of meaning. Saying that it doesn't is a lot like saying "Personal computer has no meaning, because today's PCs are more powerful than minicomputers and even mainframes were when PCs were introduced."

Web 2.0 is ultimately a signifier for a fundamental change in computing generations. We went from the mainframe era to the minicomputer era to the PC era. And the PC era clearly entered a new phase with the rise to power of Microsoft, such that it's "2.0" phase was referred to by terms like "the Wintel duopoly."

Web 2.0 is a similar term pointing to a watershed moment in computer business models. While the web has been around now for almost 15 years, it wasn't until the Google IPO that everyone recognized that the Web was not just another application, but the new computing platform, and that web business models were replacing those of the PC era.

I'm not saying it's the best term, but it's the one that stuck. (In 1997, I tried calling it "infoware," and in 2000, I was talking about "the internet operating system." But in 2004, we launched a conference that focused on the idea that the web was becoming the platform, and that there were new rules of business for success on that platform, and the ideas caught on.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.27.06 08:33 PM]


I think you're wrong when you say that "there's nothing technical about Web 2.0." Tell that to the thousands of engineers at Google, or to the folks at Microsoft who are still trying to make a search engine that works as well, and ad-placement services that are as good at relevance. Or go build your own version of Flickr's "interestingness." And things don't have to be hard to be new. How many people were voting up news based on user contributions, as digg does? What large scale wikis were in place before wikipedia showed it could be done? What about the P2P revolution of 2000/2001 (which still survives very nicely though it's now more under the radar, and has gone beyond file sharing to new applications like Skype.) Anyone who says that there's no new technology has blinders on!

I can tell you that the mix of books I sell is VERY different today than it was five years ago.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.27.06 08:55 PM]

"Shabby slob" Steve --

I won't bother responding to most of your tirade,
but I do want to respond to your mangling of the history of our X Window system book publishing program. When the X Window System was released, it was released as a demonstration system, and vendors were encouraged to "add value" via proprietary versions. The license allowed it, and the creators encouraged it. When RMS first got upset about the fact that our X Window System books weren't "free," I went to Bob Schiefler, the creator of the X Protocol and the head of the X Consortium, and asked his advice. He told me that what I was doing was exactly what he, as the creator of the software, had intended. His idea was that the commercial imperative would lead to the creation of added value, and that's just what happened. So much for "community outrage."

Meanwhile, when we have worked with software authors who want their documentation to be free, we've done so. We published one of the first GPL'd books by someone other than the FSF, the 1993 Linux Network Administrator's Guide. We've done much more of that over the years -- see for a complete list of books that are available under free licenses.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting story on the other side, concerning a proposal we had once from a major contributor to the FSF's documentation of the GNU project. He wanted us to republish the books, figuring that this would help them to reach a much wider audience. As I'd done with Bob Schiefler, I went to RMS, and asked what he thought. He didn't like the idea, even though the license allowed it, because the money that the FSF made from selling documentation was important to him. So I didn't do it. (I even offered to pay the profits to the FSF, but Richard declined, saying "But then I wouldn't have O'Reilly to kick around.")

Unlike Richard, I am quite happy to acknowledge that I run a business, and that part of what has been successful about my business is promoting technology, not just publishing about it. But I only promote technologies that I think are important. I was promoting Linux, Perl and Apache before we renamed them "open source" and helped the mainstream to discover them, and now I'm promoting a cluster of technologies that we call "Web 2.0" and am helping the mainstream to discover them.

I suppose I should finish by pointing to another Kathy Sierra post, entitled The Zone of Expendability", where she quoted Don Norman: "If someone doesn't hate your product, it's probably mediocre." If Kathy and Don are right, by your very passion, you've demonstrated that there might just be something to this Web 2.0 thing after all.

  steve [11.27.06 09:59 PM]

Or I could point to this:

or this:

There's no point in quoting only articles that support your point of view, and you should have some warning signals going off when the vision you're presenting is too perfect.

I'm passionate about finding and correcting problems, and you've never heard of me before because I don't go around kicking the tires on other people's vehicles. I was around before ESR, I was around before Linus, and I remember your first few posts on Usenet. I never said a word then, so that I'm saying something now is more significant than a random troll.

Your early O'Reilly books were great, and I appreciate having printed forms of documentation as I'm unable to absorb information from a computer screen. The past wasn't 100% perfect, and there were definitely some points of contention.

Let's be clear... you're a very big player on the scene, and I'm not known to the general public. If you had been anyone else, I would not have said anything, because the damage would be minimal. As it is, you have a disproportionate amount of ability to influence other people due to your public status.

I'm speaking now because I think you're actively damaging future potential for your business interests, much as you did with the coining of the term "open source" - that was jumping into something that RMS created, ripping the purpose out of it, and repackaging it into something that can be exploited.

By coining the term "Web 2.0", you are doing the same thing for the future platforms of the Internet. Whatever it's going to be, it is NOT going to be on the Web. The browser exists because of Windows and people being frightened to install new software. The browser and all of its extensions provides one of the most hideous and limited development environments that barely, and only by dint of amazing amounts of effort, qualifies as cross-platform.

The incorporation of hardware virtualisation into commodity CPUs is going to be the next platform that will replace the Web. Rather than fears of damage, it will be possible to one-click run _real_ programs, running at full native speeds and with the power and flexibility that all other software, except browsers, have enjoyed for the last 30 years.

I'm protesting against you for your association of numerous and powerful technologies with the weak and obsolete idea of web browsers. HTML, CSS, Flash, and every weak workaround completely and utterly fails to provide the same kind of power as programming for the native platform.

You protested against Amazon for their One-Click. Was your passion then somehow proving that Amazon had a great product? Kathy Sierra said it, so it must be true!

  Search Engines WEB [11.27.06 10:15 PM]

Web 2,0 is in fact an effective term; it takes a classic word that everyone is familiar with - then adds adrenalin. The term is open enough so as to allow one's imaginations to flow.

However, it would not be unreasonable to question whether the term 'Web 2.0' is not just a bit patronizing to Tim Berners-Lee. His response appears to be less than enthused...

....which in some way is somewhat understandable.

THE WEB could be the Main Taxonomy with varying evolutions staying within that structure, as opposed to being evolved OUT of that structure (as the term Web 2.0 applies)

But from a marketing standpoint, it is quite possible that this ambitious term evoke the imaginations and stirred heightened expectations, thus accellerating it's acceptance as a concept.

The closest thing society may create as a true Web 2.0 - would be Real 3-D experiences that would NOT require staring into a monitor.

Also, the encompassing of the OTHER THREE SENSES (besides Visual and aural which we are not limited to)

  Kevin Farnham [11.27.06 11:23 PM]

I think "Web 2.0" is a very appropriate term, because in economic history innovations that radically change society typically have three phases:

  • the initial boom, when the value of the technology is recognized
  • the bust, when it is recognized that the technology will not immediately make every citizen wealthy (even if they invest in the technology providers)
  • the second wave, during which the technology's promise is realized, over a period of decades of incremental development and effusion into the entirety of society

Motors were a hot thing around 1902. Invest in motors, and you'll be rich. How many automakers from 1902 exist today? But how much money was made in the next 50 years by automakers? How much did autos transform first world society?

Rails, instantaneous long-distance communication (telegraph), and electricity are other examples of technologies that had initial booms, busts for most of the initial investors, then decades of solid growth.

Transcontinental transportation 2.0, telegraph 2.0, electricity 2.0, motors/autos 2.0... these represent the expansion of new technologies into society in a wave that truly changes society.

Web 2.0 is of this type. There was a great invention, the Internet, the World Wide Web. Suddenly everyone knew technology companies like EMC, SUN, etc. would grow by 30% annually forever (that's what their stock market valuations in 1999-2000 said). Call that "Web 1.0" and call the 2000 Nasdaq crash the bust where we suddenly realized everyone won't be immediately, exceedingly wealthy from the Web.

This isn't "Web Bubble 2.0" by any means, from what I can see. It's the start of the wave that will realize the promise that was forecast by "Web 1.0". To me, the term "Web 2.0" is the recognition that we've arrived at the long-term wave state, having graduated from "irrational exuberance" and having begun to recover from post-bust fear.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.28.06 07:52 AM]

Steve --

Great comeback! I saw those two Kathy Sierra posts as well, and thought, "he could quote those in return," and I'm glad you did. But as to the glib but wrong vs. the inarticulate but right, I don't think you can hide behind that shield. You're quite articulate. You're just wrong.

And jumping to the end of your post, yes, when I led the Amazon 1-click protest, it was indeed a sign that I thought Amazon had a great product. If they weren't the industry leader, and someone who'd done much to advance the state of the art, there would have been no point in protesting. I wasn't protesting Jay Walker (Priceline)'s patent mill because it was clear that Jay was out to make a patent buck. But Jeff Bezos really wanted to do the right thing; he just needed some feedback from the market.

But to the middle of your post, we'll just have to agree to disagree, at least in parts. I do think that software virtualization is a truly interesting technology, and one that is going to make a big difference. But I don't see it as an alternative to the web.

It seems to me that you are ineluctably wedded to a software paradigm, when the world has moved on. Yes, the web has many faults, but what it has done is that it has moved the application layer up from software per se to "information interfaces," which are applicable to a whole other level of problem. (Read my essay "Hardware, Software, and Infoware," if you haven't already.)

The web is "worse" for traditional applications in the same way that transistors are worse than tubes for high-fidelity sound. But worse is better when it enables a new class of application.

I do very much agree with you that it's unfortunate that the term "Web 2.0" suggests very much that the web is the center of the new paradigm, though, when in fact, it's the internet itself. Which is why for years, I was talking about "the internet operating system" as my preferred term for what was coming. I didn't even coin the term "Web 2.0" -- as has often been described, it was hatched as the name of a business conference, designed to suggest the renaissance of the web as business opportunity -- but as it caught on, I attached it to the ideas I'd been evangelizing for years, about the fundamental changes the internet is bringing both to the world of applications and to business.

But I 100% agree that it's not just "the web." Many interesting applications today are not web applications (P2P, distributed computation, software virtualization), but they are, like it or not, now part of "Web 2.0."

Ultimately, language has a mind of its own. You can introduce a term, but people make of it what they will, and its beyond anyone's control.

Where I suppose I disagree with you most (and where I think your biases are showing) is in your characterization of "open source" vs. "free software." RMS' religious definitions were provocative and important, but would never have made it to the mainstream. But more importantly, they missed *so much* of what was important because of their relentless focus on the GNU canon. Anything that wasn't GPL was peripheral to the story. A lot of what I did with my early open source activism was to focus people on how "free software" (later "open source") was driving the internet, which *was* becoming mainstream, celebrating programs that RMS never talked about, like Bind, Sendmail, and Apache. (See my article, "Remaking the P2P Meme" for an account of this process.)

Finally, returning to the overall theme of Kathy's post, about terms like "Web 2.0" being shorthand that allow useful and meaningful conversations between people with shared context, I can't help but quote the email that you sent me when your post was caught in a spam trap by Movable Type (because it contains two links):

"Your habit of blocking posts when there is dispute is very anti-Web 2.0..."

As I replied, there is no habit, just a spam setting (I had to dig through literally hundreds of spam comments to find your non-spam comment). But the fact that you can say "anti-Web 2.0" and mean something recognizable to anyone familiar with the phenomenon proves Kathy's point, and mine, whether you *like* the term or not.

Anyway, thanks for the spirited debate! I'm sorry that you think I'm leading the world astray. I don't think I have *that* much influence. Good technology will out. And keep me posted on interesting work you see in software virtualization. It's an area I'm very interested in for the Radar blog, and would love to have breaking news on.

  Kathy Sierra [11.28.06 12:13 PM]

I've said all I can on the"Web 2.0" label, but the two other posts Steve referenced--about glibness and 'wisdom of crowds'--DO support Tim's view. I'm not sure why you think otherwise, Steve, but if my words were misinterpreted, it's most likely my fault.

The glibness post helps explain why Web 2.0 is useful for some and misunderstood by so many others. Glibness is saying something quickly, that sounds good, but has virtually NO thought behind it. Tim, etc. have put a *ton* of thought into this, and continue to do so including right here in this thread. The emergence of Tim's view of Web 2.0 is anything but glib, although I've no doubt people in meetings across the world are *using* it that way themselves... "Oh, let's be sure to Web 2.0-it!" without thinking, just to impress clients, investors, etc.

The fact that most of us have such a hard time stating an exact definition of Web 2.0 reflects another point in my glib post... that the ability to perceive and understand a new way of thinking about something nearly always comes *before* the ability to cleanly articulate it. I think we've all had the "I know it when I see it but I can't define it yet" experiences, like the "bad smells" in software refactoring...

As for "one of us is smarter than all of us" -- that post completely supports the idea of collective intelligence, it just makes a very clear distinction between group *consensus* and group *aggregation*. While the Web 2.0 umbrella can include both, I know for certain that Tim's idea of "harnessing collective intelligence" is not a synonym for "consensus." For example, a sole book author with 1,000 reviewer participants is VERY different from having 1,000 people write a story by consensus.

The most interesting part of this story for me is trying to understand WHY it evokes such strong emotions in people. (And for different reasons, often in opposition). And if nothing else, the confusion around the label has been a huge motivator for widespread thinking and discussion (and fighting). This thread is just one more example, and I believe that in every one of these conversations, most of us think a bit more deeply and learn something new by listening to the opposing views. But I do understand "passion", and when reacting from emotions like fear and anger, we're not at our logical, listening best. This discussion should be continued, not shut down with the-sky-is-falling-and-you-are-to-blame reaction.

Steve, I know you were being sarcastic with the "Kathy Sierra said it so it must be true!" but since that's clearly ridiculous, I'll revise it to something more likely to be true: "Kathy Sierra said it, so it probably has a cute graphic!" ; )

  steve [11.28.06 02:52 PM]

I liked your response, and I apologise for the snideness of my earlier posts. I find that I'm overlooked when I'm polite, so I have to stir in some degree of Being Annoying to compensate for not being known. :)

You have been very generous with your time, so thank you. I will continue to disagree with some aspects of your message, but I agree with the main points about collective intelligence and the general direction of the Net.

I was pondering what I would have considered a suitable name that wouldn't have been as annoying, and even "Net 2.0" would have been fine as it would have emphasised the larger picture rather than focussing on the nature of its implementation.

Even more than software paradigm, I'm wedded to augumenting humans through collective intelligence. I would hate for the transhumanity of the future to be sitting in front of Internet Explorer. :)

Kathy; the glib/smart references were to say that I'm not as well spoken. I understand the points of your articles, but was saying that I'm one of the crowd that contributes by being independent and not agreeing!

Overall, the fact that we are talking about these things is productive and contributes (in all its fits and starts) to how the future is shaped.

Again, I apologise for the offensive tone of my initial postings.

  Dave [12.01.06 08:51 PM]

I have to admit that I love the passion in Steve's comments.

It really does seem a bit questionable to stick a version number on something we don't own. Then again, by coining the phrase O'Reily gets to, in a sense, own a portion of the mindshare that comes with all the discussion of what this term means. Obviously the term Web 2.0 does make a great verbal short-cut, and is an example of how language is totally consent-driven (if enough people like it and use it, then it sticks).

I wonder what aspects of the topic we delete, distort, or generalize when we use this term? What is our intent behind using it? The term is clearly useful in many contexts, but I wonder what it says about society and our version-obsessed mindsets, that we would now feel compelled to embed version numbers in virtually everything?

Consider too, just for a moment, the inadvertent "version-anxiety" created by this term (at least for some portion of the audience). Sooner or later some people will wonder, if they haven't already - "What version of the web are we using, and do we have to upgrade our computers to use web 2.0?"

If the nomenclature of art and fashion is any indicator, we may as well brace ourselves for steady stream of rapidly evolving signifiers for the concept of NEW in the "post 2.0" years ahead. Our only hope is that each one of these signifiers will quickly and mercifully become passé.

  Dave [12.01.06 09:07 PM]

Having said all that, we'll know we've truly arrived in the 2.0 promised land when é is not something we have to jump through hoops to use...

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