Time to retire a tired old horse. I expressed my doubts about “Web 2.0” as a useful label in my very first serious blog post on remarkk.com back in March 2006. I was both pleased and surprised when Shel Israel picked it up at the time. After attending the Lift Conference, I must now return to that question with a stronger conclusion.
In all the gee-whiz of “Web 2.0″, the tech world has been tripping over itself to build the next Flickr, the next YouTube, the next whatever. I’ve shrugged, slightly bored by the VC-fueled me-too dot-echo. It’s not another bubble, but it is a distraction. It gets away from the whole point of the social web and social media – the disintermediation of the value chain between people, their passions and each other. To borrow and reframe a Rohan-ism (itself borrowed from Soylent Green):
Web 2.0 is People.
What is the point of a new tool, if it doesn’t connect us in some human way, doesn’t allow us to find each other and ourselves? How is the disintermediation of the value chain between you and me changing the way that we will work, what we will create and the society that we will build together? These were some of the questions in the room at Lift, and there was barely a single screenshot or VC-oriented pitch anywhere in the mix. These are profoundly relevant questions, which the North American Web 2.0 discourse unfortunately obscures.
The Social Web.
If the social medium is the message, then the Social Web is the people. The Social Web is a technological extension of human evolution. The tools are disappearing, and as they do what is left is us: you and me. I contend (in my “strong opinions, loosely held” way) that a new structure for society, the economy and human culture is being built underneath the surface stories in the tech business press of peer production, user-generated content and social software tools.
Humanity is becoming interlinked and in increasingly constant communication with one another on a scale and at a rate of acceleration that points to the prescience of Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. This is a Collective Intelligence, which is exhibiting emergent properties. What kinds of questions do we have for this collective intelligence? What problems can it solve for us? What is its intent?
We Need a New Language.
So, to my point: Given the massive implications of this transformation, the whole Web 2.0 nomenclature (3.0, 4.0, etc.) is keeping our imaginations chained to an idea of change that is incremental, not exponential. The collective intelligence of the social web is on a long-term exponential growth curve which is heading to territories we will no longer recognize from our current paradigm of thinking about human society and its relationship to its technology.
The day we abandon this old tech industry-driven fan-boy language and take on the bigger questions behind the technology is the day that the tools really become relevant to the broader society; this will be the day when change will come, new fortunes made, old ones destroyed.
What is the role of human values in this process of transformation? If we don’t articulate them, then those values will not inform the new society we are creating. This is a historical moment of profound possibility, but also one fraught with danger if we do not comprehend or engage with these bigger questions.
(Recognizing the need for humility, I will, however, continue using the tag Web 2.0. I’m not arrogant enough to think I can change the language with a single post!)