Some say “Web 2.0” is just the latest meaningless buzzword in a long list of internet hyperbole. But Matthew Buckland argues that such labels can be useful.
A well-known blogger wrote that whenever he hears the phrase “Web 2.0” he feels a little bit stupider for the rest of the day. Critics have dismissed the term as the latest meaningless, hyperbolic obfuscation to hit the internet and get people all excited over nothing.
If anything demonstrates just how much scepticism there is, it’s the particularly vicious criticism from popular UK technology site The Register. Here, Web 2.0 is dismissed “as a great big shit sandwich, and we’re all going to have to take a bite”.
But many have also embraced this new buzzword as an evolutionary description about a new publishing phenomenon and ethos that is currently sweeping the net. Nebulous as the term may be, it has gained currency with millions of citations on Google.
So what is it? The most comprehensive definition of Web 2.0 appears on the website of computer book guru Tim O’Reilly, the person largely responsible for popularising the term.
O’Reilly lists seven core principles of what defines a Web 2.0 feature or company. They include trusting your users as co-developers or co-publishers and harnessing the “collective intelligence” of the web. They include ensuring richer user experiences by treating the “web as a platform” and using “lightweight interfaces, development models and business models”.
I have to admit there is something noticeably different and more exciting about the web of today compared with the web five years ago. So maybe we do need a term to encapsulate this new, exciting web.
Today we have blogs and wikis (the most famous of which is wikipedia) and RSS syndication. We have new online advertising models in Google’s Adwords and peer-to-peer file-swapping services, the first of which was Napster. These are all considered Web 2.0 features.
Where Web 1.0 was merely a publishing medium, Web 2.0 heralds an era of flexibility and increased interactivity. What this means for publishers is that ordinary, “untrained” readers are getting increasingly involved in the publishing game because the unique interactive nature of the web allows them to do this. Some call it “citizen journalism”.
As publishers – the gatekeepers of quality and credibility – this instinctively makes us worried. The latest barrage of criticisms against Wikipedia about false or inaccurate information appearing in its entries and the failed LA Times wiki-editorial experiment give credence to publisher’s worries, but at the same time we have to recognise the power of user participation and how it enriches the content spread.
But hang on, what’s new about all of this? User participation and emphasis on interactivity has been around since the early days of the web, so why all the hype?
For example, when I first came across the term “blogs”, I initially didn’t get what the fuss was about because there was nothing inherently new about blogging. Forms of blogging, as simple content management systems allowing users to update their personal websites, have been around for ages, since the start of the web. All that was different was that it now had a label.
I’m no linguistics expert, but for me it has highlighted the power of marketing a label. Slap a catchy name onto something, get it popularised and, if your timing is right, it will catch on. Labels help people package ideas, products and markets into clean concepts that are easier to grasp.
So perhaps this is why the label Web 2.0 is useful? It may help O’Reilly sell a new book on the subject, but it’s also a helpful term to help us understand and pinpoint a trend on the web. And that’s ok with me.
Matthew Buckland is publisher of the Mail & Guardian Online @ www.mg.co.za
Web 1.0 VS Web 2.0
DoubleClick (banners) –> Google AdSense
Ofoto –> Flickr
Akamai –> BitTorrent
mp3.com –> Napster
Britannica Online –> Wikipedia
Personal websites –> Blogging
Domain name speculation –> Search engine optimisation
Page views –> Cost per click
Publishing –> Participation
Content management systems –> Wikis
Directories (taxonomy) –> Tagging (“folksonomy”)
Stickiness –> Syndication (RSS)