09 May How should we define Web 2.0?
Surely you’ve experienced this: the awkward experience when people have been talking about something or someone for a long time assuming you were in the know. You then have to pretend to understand, even when you have no idea what they’re talking about. Because everyone thinks you know your stuff, you can’t ask for details, so you nod, smile and hope you aren’t called upon to share some observation [Ed: Sounds like college].
I suspect we’re there again when people start bandying about the term “Web 2.0.” How often do you hear Web 2.0 preceded by the disclaimer, “so-called”? This is a sure sign that the speaker is, at best, skeptical of this new wave of hype, and at worse is using the term to brush a wide stroke of definition across an area of activity that includes every sort of new Web service and/or social software.
For some people, though, Web 2.0 is starting to mean “Here we go again.” There is an emerging fear that a new hype cycle is heating up a market beyond its natural value. In support of that view are the growing number of sites (Web 2.0 sites, no doubt) that begin to poke fun at the whole idea of Web 2.0. For example, check Programmable Web’s Web 2.0 matrix for an interesting view of how Web 2.0 companies mash up, and at the Web 2.0 logo matrix for a sense of just how inflated Web 2.0 is becoming.
According to Wikipedia, “Web 2.0 generally refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages.”
That definition is pretty broad, as it fails to catch a lot of useful new products, such as Accomplice, which have a collaborative backbone but run as a desktop, rather than Web-based, client. On close reading, this definition may also exclude several Web services that claim the Web 2.0 mantle, but have little or nothing to do with sharing or collaboration (which I’d argue are two different activities anyway).
I’m fairly certain that Web 2.0 won’t generate the extreme boom/bust cycle that the dotcom craze of the late ’90s produced. The amount of investment, on average, going into a Web 2.0 startup is miniscule compared to the millions dumped on silly e-commerce plans seven to 10 years ago. Moreover, very few of these Web 2.0 companies plan on exiting by IPO, so there’s little risk that grossly uninformed investors will pour their pensions into Web 2.0 stocks, thereby inflating prices beyond sustainability.
This begs the question, just what is Web 2.0? Rather than set forth my own definition (although I tend to circulate with the crowd that worries about the hype factor), I want to hear yours. I suspect your ideas and definitions will be insightful and humorous. So send definitions along to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll share the results next week.
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