Kel Kelly

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Web 2.0′s Identity Crisis

October 30, 2008 11:01 AM

All of a sudden, the term Web 2.0 is getting thrown under the bus like a certain governor from Alaska who is being blamed for the entire GOP meltdown. Michael Arrington’s post, An Ignoble But Much Needed End To Web 2.0, started the pigpile a couple of weeks ago. Since then, many Web 2.0 start-ups have had layoffs and this has fueled the fury over Web 2.0′s imminent death.

Here’s the problem, Web 2.0 as defined by Tim O’Reilly, the man who coined the phrase, is not going any place and will be around for a long, long time. Let’s look at the defining attributes that O’Reilly identifies in his September 2, 2005 post, What Is Web 2.0:

  • The Web as a platform
  • User-generated content
  • Technologies empowering users, enabling participation & aggregating wisdom
  • Services, not packaged software
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data that gets richer the more people use it
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development & business models

To say Web 2.0 is going away is to say that all the above bullets are going away. Homey don’t think so! I highly doubt we are going back to a world of installing software on a PC and having that PC be the only device where we can run anything. That would be one bad acid trip. The Web 2.0 genie as defined by O’Reilly is out of the bottle and there is no putting her back in.

The problem is Web 2.0 is suffering an identity crisis. The term Web 2.0 morphed away from O’Reilly’s original definition and is now solely and iconically defined and associated with the start-up companies that play in the Web 2.0 space. As such, people who see these companies as going away are making the incorrect assumption that “Web 2.0″ is going away. Nothing could be further from the truth. Last I checked, Facebook and its 100+ million membership isn’t going anywhere except up. And oh by the way, TechCrunch is a Web 2.0 company. I don’t think they are going away either.

So where does it go from here? I think what is going to happen is a new term will be created to better label the bullets/attributes cited above and probably include a few new attributes. This will allow for ”Today’s Web” to dissociate itself from the struggling Web 2.0 startups. It’s a classic branding problem. What will that term be? Who the eff knows. I am very interested to see if O’Reilly renames his conferences from Web 2.0 Expo and Web 2.0 Summit to something else. That will be very telling.

How do you define Web 2.0?

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

14 Comments on “Web 2.0′s Identity Crisis”

  1. Yael K. Miller Says:

    I use the term Web 2.0 and nothing makes my teeth grind more than people taking about Web 3.0, etc. Web 3.0 really? How can you jump to 3.0 when the majority of the population is still 1.0.

    I define Web 2.0 as how the internet is and should be used. A Web 1.0 website is a static page where a person throws up some information about their product or whatever and that’s it. There’s no interaction, no engagement. Web 2.0 is about “trusting users as co-developers” and “harnessing collective intelligence.”

    Also, I believe Web 2.0 is a good term to use when interacting with the “outside world.” Most basic computer users are familiar with the numbering system of program reiterations: 1.0, 2.0, etc. So saying you work in Web 2.0 is a good starting point opposed to saying you work in social media.

    I’ll admit I haven’t used the “I work in Web 2.0″ line yet. I have been saying “I’m working in Internet marketing” which was been a conversation killer. (Or maybe it’s just the people I’ve been talking with.) Still, I plan to put my money where my mouth is and say “I work in Web 2.0.” We’ll see how it goes.

  2. Jesse Robbins Says:

    Great insight here!

    What Tim O’Reilly, Dale Dougherty, and others did with ‘Web 2.0′ was to identify patterns that been going on for years and extrapolate. We won’t know, or be able to name, the next thing until we’re already soaking in it.

    -Jesse Robbins
    O’Reilly Radar

  3. Kel Says:

    yael, i am so with you on the teeth grinding! i have said it before on this blog and i’ll say it again — the people talking about web 3.0 don’t have a facebook profile, don’t twitter, don’t blog, etc. they are so out of touch with today’s web. time for you to embrace web 2.0 as the pool you work & play in. practice saying it in front of a mirror. it will get easier to say over time…just in time for a new term!

  4. Kel Says:

    jesse, thanks for the post. i am happily still soaked with web 2.0 juice and hope that doesn’t change anytime soon. side question: did o’reilly media change its name to o’reilly radar or is that a different division? also any insight on how you will handle conference names moving forward? looking forward to next week’s web 2.0 summit in sf. maybe i’ll see you there!

  5. Allan Says:

    I’m not quite the genius that O’Reilly is so I’ll go with his definition. It works well enough for me. And I agree that there’s no chance Web 2.0 as a feature set will ever go away. I was recently speaking at the Web 3.0 Conference (wow – I have no use for these numerical designations) and was impressed by the fledgling effort by some innovators to bring about the semantic web. I think that too is essentially a feature set.

  6. Kel Says:

    allan, thanks for your perspective! i’m fascinated that people are actually talking about “web 3.0.” what is their definition of web 3.0? do tell. inquiring minds want to know. haha!

  7. Esteban Kolsky Says:


    Very interesting article, and something I have been wondering myself. Let me tell you where my mind is on this. I see three generations of Web currently, all vying together for position.

    Let’s all assume that Web 1.0 is done. I would say it has more growing up to do, but for the most part is done. This is basic infrastructure, the cabling and routers, the communication layer. We laid it out, we worked it as much as we could, and we built a framework that we need to take advantage of.

    This is Web 2.0 comes in. Leveraging this wonderful, as Thomas L Friedman would call it, flattener of the world. We are now creating content at a rate like never before. I saw last week a statistic that amazed me. We created more content in the last two years than we did in the past 50. And we will triple that in the next year. This is the true Web 2.0 – everyone gets a voice in the infrastructure. True, much of it is probably not as good as it should be – but it is something. Now we need to grow the Web 2.0 into something useful – organize it, rate it, rank it, make it useful – even trash some of it.

    Then we have Web 3.0 in its infancy. Just a baby. Web 3.0 is what to do with the content, how to leverage it better, how to make it useful, how to use it for automating and enhancing (think Star Trek, and just about any other SciFi thing from the last 30 years). Computers talking to Computers automatically doing things (this is the last stage of growing Web 1.0 – services, automation, etc.). People using the content in the best possible ways. Semantic Web used to automatically rank, organize, and make useful some of the content we create – eventually all of it. Imagine if anything we do, type, write, even think eventually gets organized and automatically used for all its potential.

    That would be Web 4.0.

    Too much? maybe, but i think it would be great!

    Thanks for writing this
    Esteban Kolsky

  8. Kel Says:

    estaban, thanks so much for taking the time to share your in-depth insight. i think the key for me is that the future will be an evolution from web 2.0 to the next phase, not the death of web 2.0 and emergence of another phase. whatever web 3.0 ends up being will be based on the foundation of web 2.0 that o’reilly defined and the world created.

  9. Jennifer Pahlka Says:

    Your post and the comments here are very sensible. It’s nice to see thoughtful articulation of the situation. Speaking as part of the Web 2.0 Expo & Summit team at TechWeb, we’re not currently planning to change the name of the events, though we think about it often. Yesterday someone said to me “sure, Web 2.0 is actually still nascent, but perception is reality and the perception is that we’re moving on.” That may be true, and we’re tempted, but a name change could be really confusing given that we feel there’s still an enormous number of interesting developments to occur that will be driven by the points Tim articulated. It’s kind of like pretending to be trendy when what you really want to do is get down to work.
    Thanks for the great post, and see you at Summit!

  10. SexySEO Says:

    Just 1 stupid Q:D why do you need to define Web 2.0

  11. Kel Says:

    jen, it’s great to see you here! i am thrilled to hear there are no name changes planned at this time. i think your events set the tone for the entire industry and it’s important to stay firm. web 2.0 is alive and well based on its original definition. to change the name at this time based on confusion is the wrong thing. continuing to provide a platform through your events and advocating on behalf of the sector is the right thing. i plan is to continue to serve web 2.0 koolaid for a long time. lol! see you next week.

  12. Kel Says:

    sexy seo, thanks for your question. it needs to be defined because it is suffering an identity crisis and has a negative perception that it doesn’t deserve. the definition of web 2.0, as defined by o’reilly, is not likely to go away for a long time. more attributes will be added to it and that may take it to a new phase, but web 2.0 is not facing death as proclaimed by pundits like arrington. like many brands, the perception has gone astray and needs to be brought back to center. there is nothing but goodness in a web 2.0 world; the power is with the peeps. i want to play in the web 2.0 sandbox without getting sand thrown in my eyes. i think as soon as we see some of these web 2.0 startups begin to successfully monetize their businesses much of the negativity will recede and the original definition for web 2.0 can find its voice again. in the meantime, my voice will continue to sing its praises.

  13. Rotkapchen Says:

    Ditto all that, particularly today when I was noting that a whole lot of 2.0 tools are actually using 1.0 UIs. There’s a whole lot more to this story than the incidental tourist is willing to stop and take note of.

  14. Violary Says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

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