Friday, April 28, 2006

Two Point Oh.

Some of you know who I am.

Some of your have read my last blog.

Some of you even know what the Society for the Spread of Unwanted Insights is all about.

Well -- I'm back in business. Updated once a week. This time on blogger.

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What is it with nerds and the term "Web 2.0"? Why is there a problem with that term? Why is it bad to want to give a name to something whos existence is quite obvious?

Anybody who's been around the internet of the year 1996 and 2006 knows exactly what that term describes. It isn't any one thing, it isn't any one technology or concept or color scheme. The wikipaedia entry for web 2.0 has a nice graphic of the web-2.0 mind-space as it is really a number of things, a collection, a fuzzy hairball of notions like any good living thing. But in the end the web is now fundamentally different than it was ten years ago, and so we sometimes would like to use some commonly understood term to point out this difference.

The "old web" was all about information. Access to information. Bringing information "online". Putting information out on the web. That was a new concept. The big battles were about information-access. Between the ISPs and the ISP-alikes. And between the browsers and similar information-access infrastructures. The AOL and IE quasi-monopolies were forged then. This was a new concept and a multitude of schemes were hatched to see how one might make money of this. Some even successful.

The "new web" isn't about information and its access any more. We've figured that one out. Something like Firefox can still make a splash, but there's never going to be a "Netscape vs IE" battle again. Todays battles are about finding information, organizing information, structuring information. Search engines. Portals. Web-directories. And "web-communities". Anybody could have seen that one coming. As we already knew back in '92: The killer-app of the nineties is -- people.[1]

And the extremely thinly veiled admission that a thousand people contributing a little here and there beat any silicon infrastructure any day of the week. That's the Google admission, the DMOZ admisssion, the wikipaedia admission and in the end, yes, the MySpace admission. Don't try to solve any big task -- structuring the web itself, the encyclopaedic knowledge of mankind or even just simply to entertain your visitors -- when there's a million people out there who'd be happy to lend a hand here and there and the harvest of these little bits will create a better yield than anything any mega-corporation could produce. Any self-respecting nerd should recognize this as the open source model.

We all know these things.

And sufficiently complex systems cease to be binary: there's no sharp transition when a tadpole suddenly becomes a frog, but the differences between tadpoles and frogs are so obvious that we have different words for them. And in the same vein there's no particular single thing that marks the new web -- it's just that anybody with eyes in their head can see that this is a whole different critter from 10 or 15 years ago and so we give it some name to refer to this change: "Web 2.0". We could have done worse.

I think many nerds are jealous because they were so immersed in the change that they didn't even notice that it happened. It took a bunch of marketing guys to whack them over the head with the (obvious, really) insight that the rules you learned in 1995 were not applicable in 2005 any more. That the mechanisms of the web were not the same and the population was not the same and the motivations of the populations had changed and the actions and reactions and interactions had changed and that there where whole new business models emerging, whole new economies blossoming because whole new populations were emerging.

I think the most powerful change is the one that the younger generation brough about: a generation of people for whom there always was an internet. To whom this is all perfectly normal and who have no more reason to want to learn HTML or understand TCP/IP than the average car driver cares how a fuel injection system really works or the average telephone customer really cares about the global network of switches behind it. We've outgrown the phase where the tool itself is the center of interest and are entering the phase where people can actually use the tool without having to be toolsmiths themselves.

The first cameras were fickle marvels of technologies and photographers were extremely well-paid technology mavens of their time. The disposable photo-click has brough photography to the masses -- billions of utterly forgettable snapshots haven't done anything to elevate the art of photography, but they have created utterly unpredicted markets, products, wealth and, in the end, masterpieces of photography that would never have been possible without them.

It doesn't matter what exactly distinguished web 2.0 from web 1.0 -- the two are different from each other like a frog is different from a tadpole.

And what is web-3.0 going to be about? Whats the economic and inforation-infrastructure that we should be thinking of when we're looking forwards? Well -- that a topic for another column.

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[1] Extra points for those of you that know from whence that phrase originates.
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