Posted by: rolfsky | September 17, 2007

Web 2.0 is an era, not a thing

Last week I presented the newest version of my web 2.0 deck at Emerce In preparation for presenting, I’d blown away the first 200 slides of this presentation to start from scratch. Sitting in my hotel room in Rotterdam, I tapped away at my new thesis:

Web 2.0 is not a thing, but an era.”

Going back to Tim O’Reilly’s declaration of the term, we can see that he first starts by comparing the “old” versus the “new”. Flickr beats Ofoto, BitTorrent beats Akamai, participation trumps publishing and etc. In his complete discussion, he lays out seven key principles:

  1. the web as a platform
  2. harnessing collective intelligence
  3. data is the next Intel inside
  4. end of the software release cycle
  5. lightweight programming models
  6. software above the level of a single device
  7. rich user experiences

Unfortunately for Tim, he’s smarter that most of the rest of us. Large parts of this definition were lost in translation and the term he coined flew from his hands and was furiously scribbled by journalists, bloggers, and techies. Of the items he points out only a few made it through to the “general consensus” of the term, and those are probably #7, #2, and #5 in descending order. #1, #3, and #4 don’t have the visceral punch to stick in your mind and #6 flies clear past the general audience.

I think it would be fair to say that his term — regardless of how he attempted to define it — seemed like a good phrase to describe what everyone sensed was happening. There was change in the air and we needed a way to reference it. In this moment it took on a new life as defined by those who use it. No longer was it the seven things he had mentioned; the popular definition had come to refer instead to the whole package of change itself.

In this way, Web 2.0 became confused. The more it was used to describe a time or an era of change and all the components within it, the less resemblance it bore to a nicely ordered listed to be used as reference. Comparing the two often leads to a bit of mental dissonance, as if the “understood” term doesn’t match the real definition.

And so this is where we are left. The term “Web 2.0” is being used to describe an era, not a thing. It lives with such rich cousins as “the Industrial Revolution”, “the Renaissance” and “Impressionism”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for the term Web 3.0. Where is “the Industrial Revolution2” or “the Renaissance, Part Two”?



  1. Actually, I take that back, there is a “Second Indsutrial Revolution”:

    But how often is it mentioned?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: