Cat eats pigeons: why Web 2.0 has jumped the shark

Well my declaration that Web 2.0 is dead set
the cat amongst the pigeons. Let me give a bit of background…

I’ve been thinking for a while now about re-focusing Read/WriteWeb onto more
media-related Web technologies. Many of the things I’m interested in are being done by
Yahoo!, which by now is generally recognized as a media company. Web-based media
assignments make up the bulk of my freelance work, for various companies in Silicon
Valley. So for the sake of my career it makes sense to re-focus Read/WriteWeb onto Web
media.

So that’s one factor. Another is of course the hype and cynicism around the term ‘Web
2.0’. I’ve been writing about Web 2.0 for well over a year now, much longer than any
other blog out there that proclaims itself to be about Web 2.0. I thoroughly enjoyed it,
up till about a month after the Web 2.0 Conference in 2005. But in the last couple of
months, the enjoyment has gone. Part of the reason is the number of cowboys and critics
that have entered the ‘discussions’. Most of the attraction of blogging for me is in
having great discussions with other people passionate about the Web. What I’ve been
dealing with lately is responding to, or (when I’m in a more sensible mood) filtering
out, people who most certainly AREN’T passionate about the Web. It’s literally draining
the energy out of me and making blogging an unpleasant experience. I never thought I
would say that. So I knew I had to change something.

But why turn my back on Web 2.0? Well let me just clarify that what I’m turning my
back on is the actual term ‘Web 2.0’ – not the technologies and definitely not the social
changes we’re seeing in this current era of the Web. Personally I want to focus back on
the Web technologies, rather than arguing about what is or isn’t ‘Web 2.0’. I love the
Web and always will (overly sensitive and heart-on-sleeve person that I am). But it’s the
core concepts of the Web that I’m interested in and what I want to focus on. If you want
to continue to attack or defend ‘Web 2.0’, then be my guest. Just don’t expect me to
participate in that any more.

I want to respond to a few people that I respect. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great
people over the past year and Mike Arrington has been one of them. He’s a bit annoyed by
my outburst, going so far as to invoke Kyle from Southpark. Mike wrote:

“Look at Flickr. Look at Delicious. Look at Riya. And 1,000 more. My God, how dare you
tell me that someting amazing and new, completely new, hasn’t happened on the web.
Web 2.0 isn’t about wikipedia definitions and neatly wrapped bundles of
functionality that non-innovators can use to understand what’s going on. It’s
about the web coming out of a nuclear winter and bursting forth in a fit of chaotic
growth. It’s about hope and love and getting ridiculously wealthy by ignoring the
wisdom of those around you who say “your idea, it sucks”.

Don’t be so eager to tear down this castle in the sky. It may not be so easy to
build it yet again.

:-)”

The mistake I’ve made over the past year is getting too obsessed by definitions – the
Wikipedia one and others. Mike never fell into that trap and so he is 100% correct to say
that it isn’t about definitions. We are in a new era of excitement about the Web and that
is, I guess, as close to anything the definition of Web 2.0. That’s fine, but I just
don’t want to blog about the excitement (or otherwise) of this thing called ‘Web 2.0’
anymore. That’s all I’m saying. It’s time for me to get back to writing about what I love
about the Web.

I’ve always respected Dave Winer and just lately I’ve had to deal with some of the
same kind of vicious vilification he’s had to endure for years (it’s probably been ten
times as worse for Dave). Here’s what he wrote in
response to Russel Shaw’s piece:

“In a sense people are right when they say it’s another bubble. It’s dishonest like
the bubble was. Yet the technologies they’re hyping are honest.”

I love that last sentence: “Yet the technologies they’re hyping are honest.” Exactly,
that’s what it’s all about. Thank you Dave.

Dion Hinchcliffe also wrote an interesting post in response to mine. He wrote:

“Unfortunately, folks like Russell Shaw (author of the ZDNet article mentioned above),
seem to think that Web 2.0 is an attempt to describe something enitrely new. It doesn’t.
As Tim O’Reilly made clear in his seminal description of Web 2.0 earlier this year, it
represents the ideas that actually worked in the first generation of the Web. The
arguments that folks like Shaw use, like saying that Web 2.0 is too big an umbrella, and
represents unrelated concepts, and is nothing new, shows how uninformed even the experts
are. And also represents a poor job by the folks that discuss it publicly (though the Web
2.0 Workgroup is certainly trying.) Unfortunately, all of this creates a distorted and
incomplete view that is then propogated by the mainstream press, making it worse.”

I think this actually reinforces my point: Web 2.0 as an umbrella term has become too
problematic a term. It’s simply not worth arguing about any more, in my view. Let’s just
get back to making and using great Web software.

Don’t get me wrong. Web 2.0 was great while it lasted – and it still is a great name
for a conference. But it’s time for me personally to move on and focus on the real value
in the Web today. Which for me means leaving behind the Wikipedia definition of Web 2.0
and all the peripheral garbage from cowboys and critics.

To the people wondering what this means to the Web 2.0 Workgroup or my ZDNet blog Web 2.0 Explorer. As I commented in the
last post, those will continue. It doesn’t bother me that they’re called Web 2.0 Workgroup and
Explorer. It’s just the whole debacle around defining Web 2.0, all the buzzwords, all the
cynicism, the personal attacks, etc – that I’ve had enough of.

I’ll continue to explore Web technology, nothing has changed or will change in
that respect. Here’s to 2006!

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