Don’t be so quick to kill off Web 2.0

An article that particularly annoyed me this weekend was Fortune Magazine’s piece on why “Web 2.0 is so over. Welcome to Web 3.0.” It’s wrong, misguided, ill-founded – and deeply damaging. In other words, exactly what we have come to expect from captalist speculators and bankers.

Fortune’s argument seems to be that Web 2.0 is dead because financially speaking it’s been a total bust. Hence, time to move on to the next wave – Web 3.0, whatever that proves to be. That seems to radically miss the point of Web 2.0, and indeed underlines how bankrupt modern capitalism seems to be in thinking that the only point of anything is how much money they can make: they know “the price of everything and the value of nothing” as the cliché goes. It misses the biggest point of all: no one is making money in 2008 and 2009. With the advertising collapse we’re seeing media networks (such as ITV, Channel 4 and the New York Times) and retail outlets (such as Woolworths and Zavvi) unravel and collapse. Even banks have come perilously close to utter wipe out. So why pick on the nascent Web 2.0 industry because, like everyone else, it is struggling to make money in this environment?

Such blinkered thinking would never have created the Internet in the first place, and these people are very poor inheritors of the title ‘capitalist’ from the days of true visionaries in the past who had to try, fail, and try in the long term rather than expect a revolution and big profits in a matter of months.It seems particularly perverse to declare Web 2.0 dead just when Facebook is reporting a massive rise in numbers, and all the experts are predicting that 2009 will be the year of Twitter’s explosive rise to prominence as prefigured in the spate of press articles about this or that aspect of the microblogging service. In the UK even The Sun and the Daily Mail – hardly tech-savvy newspapers – are becoming obsessed, at least by the celebrity-users of the syste.

As Steve Wheeler puts it in his blog Learning with ‘e’s:

The whole point of Web 2.0, is that it’s not about making profit or screwing over the opposition. It is not about creating killer applications either. That’s because Web 2.0 is not and has never been about tools or services, many of which have been around almost as long as the Web itself. No, Web 2.0 is more about how people are connecting, sharing and communicating using the tools and services. There never was a revolution on the Web. It was always an evolution.

That sentiment is so anti-modern capitalist thinking that it’s no wonder that magazines like Fortune don’t “get it.” What is more troubling is how leading figures in the Internet/web/technology fields seem equally quick to want to declare Web 2.0 dead and buried. We already had Wired Magazine’s article on the death of blogging back in October, but now even experts like Simon Dickson over at Puffbox.com are taking similar “Web 2.0 is just so 2008” lines.

It’s not helpful, in fact it’s positively damaging – not just to current Web 2.0 hopes but to future Web 3.0, 4.0 et al as well. We’re just getting to the stage in industry and public sector where key opinion formers are looking up and noticing Web 2.0 and considering dipping their toes in the water. There feels to have been a real shift in the last six months and finally it has seemed that the interest in Web 2.0 was reaching out beyond the  small beach head of the natural innovators in organisations, out to rank and file managers and workers. But headlines declaring blogs and Web 2.0 dead will send these people scuttling back under cover once more, and give them a reason to ignore it the way they tried to ignore the web back in 1999 – and make no mistake, many of them still believe that the IT bubble bursting back then proved them right in thinking all this web stuff would just go away. They’re only just noticing that actually, under their noses, the Internet crept back in and changed literally everything. If we lose these key opinion makers again and give them a reason to go to ground, then it will be that much harder to get them interested in Web 3.0. And 4.0, and anything else, because they’ll always come back with the argument “we were right about Web 2.0 so you can’t convince us.”

I can completely sympathise with experts who have been working in Web 2.0 who are getting frankly a little bored and impatient. They want to move on and find shiny new exciting things: I get it, I really do, I’ve been there myself. But no matter how excited an architect is to get the dream penthouse built, he’s still got to ensure floors 1 through 20 are built first otherwise the whole thing is going to come crashing down around his or her ears. So come on, people, let’s not rush to the graveside of Web 2.0 just yet: let’s do the job and finish it properly first.

[Oh, and by way of P.S., let me just add: I’ve never liked the term ‘Web 2.0.’ It’s pretentious and empty and collects together a whole bunch of disconnected technologies, some of them 15 years old and some of them really new without any sort of sense of internal logic. I’m not wild about ‘social media’ either but right now it’s the least worst common term available, so I guess it’ll have to do. But the sooner the generic ‘Web 2.0’ term dies the happier I’ll be.]

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  1. Sorry – too long 🙂

  2. andrewlewin

    I know, I know! I should have put in a disclaimer that this one “pre-dates the statement of editorial intent”!

    Anyway, that statement’s not a resolution – more an aspiration, I think I’ll call it. Maybe in 12 months I’ll get closer to it!

  3. The Fortune article is embarrassing and I hope the journalist was pissed when he/she wrote it. Agreed, Web 2.0 is a pretentious term but what underpins it is how most people use the internet and, increasingly, connect with the world. Opinion formers won’t be able to avoid that simple fact, in time.

  4. To be fair, what I wrote is that ‘web 2.0, as a phase in the web’s development, is over […] We have all the tools we need, and it’s even easier than before. Let’s start delivering.’

    At the risk of perpetuating the ‘version number’ thing, let’s call it v2.1. Or on Moore’s technology adoption curve model, let’s say we’re beyond the ‘early adopters’ and into the ‘majority’ phases. We’ve brought millions of people to the party, through Facebook or whatever; which is great. But now what?

    (For what it’s worth, I don’t consider ‘3.0’ even worth considering yet.)

  5. andrewlewin

    Hi Simon, thanks for reading and for commenting.

    Sorry if your post got wrapped up in my general sense of frustration after reading the Fortune piece – I read them close together and sometimes the context from one can bleed into one’s understanding/perception of another. At the time the post just came over to me as another elegiac “well it was fun, but now it’s old and just a case of slogging through it” which felt very disappointing from one of the strongest and most effective advocates of this stuff in the public sector. But that’s a harsher read of your blog post than it should have been.

    It’s the frustration of the ‘coal face’ for my part, where it’s still very difficult to get people to come on board. Far from blogging/Web 2.0 being dead (Wired) or so 2008, it’s still very much early days in a lot of the circles I run in with a lot of work to do, and so it needs to retain that sense of newness, innovation, passion and momentum to get people on board. That’s what I was railing about.

    We can absolutely agree on ‘2.1’. And thanks for the words on Web 3.0 – I agree, and the premature chatter/sell on it is annoying me too.




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