Taking Some of the Hot Air Out of Web 2.0

I’m sitting here in my $400 a night room (and by room, I mean room, not big room and not suite) at the Hotel George in Washington, DC getting ready to give a lecture on ethics at Georgetown Law School. I’ve made my lecture notes and I have an hour or so to kill before I head over to the lecture hall and then rush to the airport to fly back home.

So I decided to read some of my feeds and see what’s going on in the blogosphere. And I came across a great article.

Paul Boutin has an article at Slate about Web 2.0. It does a yeoman’s job of explaining what Web 2.0 is, what it isn’t and why it means different things to different people.

Paul begins by looking to Tim O’Reilly for a definition of Web 2.0. What he gets is a bunch of technobabble that will confuse many, irritate some and enlighten none:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

web20That’s a “pre-owned cars” take if ever there was one. Dude, just because you’re a smart guy with a big platform doesn’t mean you can’t use regular words. Answer the question in a way that a normal person can understand. No one I know would get past the second line before writing off Web 2.0 as either a creation of the media or a buzzword for the nerd set.

If I ever get asked by one of my real world friends what Web 2.0 is, the first thing I’ll do is faint. When I come to, I’ll say it’s a buzzword created by tech writers that refers to a new generation of online computer applications that generally promote social interaction via user-created content and user-supplied keywords that describe and organize that content. Some of these applications are core to that process and some are supportive by organizing the data into searchable lists and databases.

Paul goes on to describe other definitions of Web 2.0 used by other segments of the population.

Developers generally use Web 2.0 to refer to “gee-whiz features” of newly developed web sites, which are often based on Ajax, tag clouds, wikis and other collaborative tools. In general, these features are free (which is problem number one when someone tries to, say, sell one of them for $2B dollars), easy to master, and easy to interconnect.

And then comes the specter of Bubble 2.0:

A third definition gets thrown around in Silicon Valley. A “Web 2.0 play” is a bid to make money by funding a bring-your-own-content site. It’s a long-shot but low-risk investment that could become the next Google. Or at least the next thing Google buys.

Bingo. I’ve said it many times and like a street preacher I will keep saying it until the cops run me off: as long as these companies and their VC handlers don’t get desperate and start trying to take these science project turned companies public, that’s fine. But we’re starting to read more and more about IPO’s in the planning.

When that starts happening, we’ll know that Bubble 2.0 has reached a critical and dangerous stage.

Fortunately, Paul says that at least some writers and editors are hip to the salesmanship game that is sprouting up around some of these products:

Beyond that, publicists and self-promoters invoke Web 2.0 whenever they want to tag something as new, cool, and undiscovered- “This could be a big story for you, Paul!” That kind of hucksterism is what sends editors reaching for their red pens.

That’s a good thing, because many more Newsweek stories and Web 2.0 may become a momentum play for the non-geek retail investor. When that happens, the huffing and puffing will grow geometrically and all that will be left will be to watch the lesser fools get wealthy while the greater fools take another bath.

Paul goes on to argue that, at least as of now, Bubble 2.0 doesn’t look as dangerous as Bubble 1.0 was. I agree, for now. But you get Wall Street behind a few of these non-companies and let a couple of them make it out of the gate without a total disaster and you’ll see a race towards our pockets that would rival the last one.

Here’s to doing our part to keep that from happening, again.

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