Banning “Web 2.0” from my Vocabulary

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 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.

Collective Intelligence.

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!)

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5 thoughts on “Banning “Web 2.0” from my Vocabulary”

  1. I see a distinction between Web 2.0 (aka the participatory Web, etc.) and a society that is transformed by using it. If Enterprise 2.0 is the enterprise transformed by the new stuff, perhaps we could talk about Society 2.0, or some other term that doesn’t include “2.0”.

    One candidate would be “Information Society”, as it could be argued that this 2.0 thing is just the next step in the ongoing evolution of the Information Society, aka post-industrial society, aka post-modern society, etc. The impact of computer technology and the Internet before 2.0 came along should not be forgotten.

  2. A label is sometimes handy. Mark, your observations are good and the zeitgeist is indeed about empowering humans with whatever rudimentary technology we are generating, it is not about the technology. However in the process of evolution, things start rough and dirty sometimes. Web 2.0, a label that I rarely use, is one of those rough and dirty approximations that has allowed us to dwell into it and reflect what it is that this whole internet connectedness is about.

  3. I have had the (dis)pleasure of trying to explain Web 2.0 to non-tech-savvy people many many times over the past year. Although I always acknowledged they are related, I have always steered the concentration away from the technology (Ajax etc.) and web design, but more towards the embracing of the power of the social community and utilizing the true value of the web.

    I have always viewed 2.0 as society’s second kick at the can. Where we failed in 1.0 with too many over-hyped offerings with little real added value; we as a society are now making up for it with rich, targeted applications that facilitate the sharing of information between people from all over the planet. Where we once thought the web was just another channel like the telephone, we now see it as its own economy where new and exciting business models can exist, not just extensions of brick and morter companies.

    I think the separation needs to be clear and that it is imperative to educate those that don’t know that things are different now. The more we can separate ourselves from the poor user experiences and dot-bombs of the past, the better. As over-used as Web 2.0 is, it draws a very clean line in the sand, for both users and investors.

    When do we retire it? When ever single person has heard it. I don’t think we are there yet. However, I would definitely stop pitching ideas for a “Web 2.0� company to VCs. Target your audience.

    Sorry about the rant…

  4. Good comments, and welcome Danny and Kurt to the Remarkk conversation.

    As usual with such things, I tend to go to extremes to make a point: “strong opinions, loosely held.” Clearly the nuanced arguments here help clarify the picture of where we are in the nomenclature of the web.

    In reality, I think we all need to make the point that, whatever we call it, Web 2.0 is People. People in conversation, people in markets, people seeking themselves and each other in communities.

  5. I am declaring web 2.0 dead after lift07 as well, but I am mostly interested in the transition of the web into 1st life – and even more excited about transiding webcommunities into 1st life.. wrote a ton about it on my blog for the last week…

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