What is Web 2.0, anyway?

Shel Israel asks:

Is it already too late to rename Web 2.0?

Good question. I know I’m already a little weary of the term. I encourage you to leave your ideas on Shel’s original post. But without consensus on its meaning and definition, it’s hard to rename the beast (assuming that is even possible).

It may just be the political economy geek in me but I think “the Network Economy” is a closer, although less buzzworthy, description of what Web 2.0 actually is. Or rather, Web 2.0 is a technological, social and cultural phenomenon that is acting as the disintermediation engine of a nascent Network Economy. If there are any naming consultants out there, I’d love to see those ideas.

The language is important, because without a language it becomes difficult for the Web 2.0 community to place itself in relation to and communicate with established businesses and the mass audience that remains in the real world outside the echo chamber, largely unaffected and unconcerned. The 1.0 world will only fully take notice once this massive shift starts to make itself truly felt, and I believe those effects are primarily economic and social/cultural in nature.

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The smartmob that is Wikipedia attempts a definition but in the end admits,

A consensus on its exact meaning has not yet been reached.

I believe that Web 2.0 is not merely a set of specific technologies and techniques like AJAX, RSS and the rest. A set of example applications (Google, Flickr, del.icio.us, Writely) doesn’t really help us define Web 2.0 in a useful way, either. When Yahoo buys Flickr, what would you call Yahoo? Is it 1.0 or 2.0? Ditto for NewsCorp/MySpace.

I would argue that Web 2.0 is actually much more than software. Seen in that light “2.0” actually provides a new clue, as it seems to indicate a generational shift. This generational shift is apparent in the different demographic profiles of the Web 2.0 innovators and those that surround them who are trying to get it, capture it or fund it – whatever “IT” is. IT is a complex combination of social values, technologies and economic relationships. One could call it a “movement”, if it were consciously organized. Perhaps Web 2.0 is an emergent property. It is at the very least a phenomenon. Ground zero was probably the Cluetrain Manifesto back in the 1.0 days.
Open networks, open standards, open source, social connections, agile development methodologies and user-centric design are creating a cultural shift in both the creators and the audience. These cultural and value changes combined with network technologies fundamentally change the relationship between producer and consumer, creator and audience. Preferences are changing both for how we want to work and what/when/how we buy/consume/interact.

From my point of view, all these forces are pointing strongly in one direction: disintermediation. Web 2.0 is the disintermediation engine of a nascent Network Economy. In the Network Economy, producers and creators meet their customers and consumers directly and engage in a value exchange that is increasingly intangible in nature. It is happening – too quickly for some, too slowly for many – but the inevitable rise of this Network Economy defines for me one of the fundamental political economic battlegrounds of this generation.

So, What’s in a Name? As it may turn out, an awful lot.

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12 thoughts on “What is Web 2.0, anyway?”

  1. The word for the post is disintermediation, which is a key component of syndication.

    When people disuss Web 2.0, it seems necessary for them to include JavaScript and dynamic HTML, aka Ajax, in the definition. Can you have Web 2.0 with a pure REST architecture?

    Kinda. I don’t think you need Asynchonous Javascript, nor XML. You do need some scripting. It has to do with the security built into browsers. Your disintermediation is blocked by standard browser security.

    A key component of many Web 2.0 applications is a bookmarklet. I have a few. I use the “Press It!” bookmarklet to blog things, coComment to record my comments, and the del.icio.us extension to take bookmarks.

    The del.icoi.us bookmarklet is an example of a bookmarklet that simply gets you to a web form. They web form may have JavaScript controls, but it’s a good old fashioned POST and redirect.

    That’s the thought that your post sparked, although it is a tangent. I like the thoughts here though. Please punch it up with some posts of sites or applications that exemplify your thoughts.

  2. Hmm, it took most of my family and friends years just to understand the phrase ‘user friendly’. I suspect non-geeks will never even be able to pronounce ‘disintermediation’, let alone spell it!

  3. Alan and Andrew,

    To clarifiy, I don’t think “disintermediation” works as a word to replace Web 2.0. It’s not very brand friendly, as Andrew points out. But that is the essential result of the phenomenon that we now call Web 2.0.

    I am at a loss for a better word, but I note Shel’s latest idea in the comments of his original post is the “web marketplace”. Maybe the “social web”, where users are brought together and the technology tries to get out of the way of their interaction.

    I will be highlighting some sites that illustrate my point that Web 2.0 is about disintermediation in future posts.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. Hmm…

    I’m getting people started with blogging in New Orleans and most of Web 2.0 is lost on them. That is the applications that are on the who’s who lists.

    They get the concepts of Google Juice and they get the idea of linking and comments.

    The linking is a bit of magic. It’s a way to get the attention of another blogger in a passive fashion. You begin the conversation with a gift of Google juice, a trackback if they want it.

    This may be an aspect of disintermediation, or as they used to say “cutting out the middle-man”, but I think it’s one of the revolutions that we take for granted.

  5. Web 2.0 represents a new shift in the usefulness of the internet and internet applications. It is not revolutionary moment in time marked by a particular event or product launch; rather it is an evolution marked more by the dogged efforts of many individuals and groups across the internet to make it BETTER.

    Don’t get me wrong web 1.0 is still around and will be for much longer, it’s just that web 2.0 is finally hitting the mainstream.

    Most mainstream users won’t know they are now ‘web 2.0 enabled’, they will just eventually figure out that what they are doing is now ‘easier, faster, better’ or that some new functionality is now available, some creative new idea has finally landed.

    For more, checkout http://www.harostreetmedia.com/node/24

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