Putting Web 2.0 in Perspective
I wondered what exactly they meant by a Web 2.0 strategy, despite my background and experience with the Web and new media, and, soon after, decided to register for the official Web 2.0 conference, set to take place November 7-9 in San Francisco to learn more. I visited the conference Web site and found a quote from Ross Mayfield, “Web 1.0 was commerce. Web 2.0 is people,” as well as an impressive guest roster featuring a mix of voices from both traditional and new media firms. However, when I went to sign up, the $3,000 event was sold out. I then began to search for a comparable event and stumbled upon the Web site for ‘Web 2point1,’ where I learned that the non-profit organization running the site had chosen that particular moniker after being threatened with legal action by O’Reilly Media (who coined the term Web 2.0) and CMP.
I couldn’t help but note the irony that the Web 2.0 conference was cost-prohibitive to most ordinary folks, and that a non-profit had been sued by the organizers of the Web 2.0 conference for attempting to use the same name. After all, isn’t Web 2.0 supposed to be about participatory media and collaborative development? Isn’t it about people?
What exactly is Web 2.0, and will it replace what we now know as the Web and the way in which we all communicate, as many seem to claim?
It may very well be true that in three thousand years, historians will view the development and widespread adoption of the Internet as a landmark event in the history of human communications, but whether that development will be responsible for providing a 'new mind for an old species' (see below) is not only questionable thinking, it is dangerous. The problem with the rhetoric of technological revolutions is that it loudly proclaims, as if in glowing neon letters, that this era is something new; the past is no more; and that the technological innovation will usher us into a utopian era. What typically follows is that, unwittingly, we find ourselves repeating the same patterns of behavior, waiting for the next revolutionary technology to come around and change the world.
Consider the following:
In the summer of 2005, Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, wrote that hyperlink technology was unleashing a new era of communicative participation "found nowhere else on the planet or in history." In fact, he heralded the present media landscape as the start of a revolutionary era in human social interactions:
Three thousand years from now, when keen minds review the past, I believe that our ancient time, here at the cusp of the third millennium, will be seen as another such era. In the years roughly coincidental with the Netscape IPO, humans began animating inert objects with tiny slivers of intelligence, connecting them into a global field, and linking their own minds into a single thing. This will be recognized as the largest, most complex, and most surprising event on the planet. Weaving nerves out of glass and radio waves, our species began wiring up all regions, all processes, all facts and notions into a grand network. From this embryonic neural net was born a collaborative interface for our civilization, a sensing, cognitive device with power that exceeded any previous invention. The Machine provided a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall) and a new mind for an old species. It was the Beginning.
Kelly's prophetic proclamation reminded me of another passage I had recently read in Scientific American that hailed a "new organization of society:"
-- 1880 Scientific American (cited in Marvin, 1998)
Interestingly, more than 100 years separates these respective pennings. The Scientific American article was published on February 14, 1880 and focused on the telephone’s impact on society. And today, the notion that the telephone has helped make the machinations of modern life possible is not in question. On the contrary, however, the idea that the telephone has had a revolutionary effect on society, eliminating the 'evils and annoyances' that make our life 'laborious and unsatisfactory' is, in fact, in question. When I read this passage from Scientific American, I couldn’t help but wonder how the wide-eyed journalist who had written the article might have felt if he suddenly found himself bombarded by telemarketers all day? Did Kelly consider how Al Qaeda used the “collaborative interface for our civilization” to access information on the structural design of the World Trade Center (Booth & Dunn 2002) and, additionally, to plan the attack? (US Institute of Peace, 2004)?
Yes, technology changes our lives, but it does not replace or necessarily improve what’s been used in the past, nor does it become part of everyday life without other factors playing a significant role.
Next: Defining Web 2.0
DownloadsPDF Version (49kb)