Thursday, September 21, 2006

Web 2.0 Buzzword Bingo

The world is abuzz with talk about Web 2.0. Everyone wants to have a Web 2.0 business model and Web 2.0 applications and be talking about how their activities are part of the Web 2.0 mindset.

While it's always interesting to watch buzzwords take route and - occasionally - become useful words, this one is a particularly loosely defined term.

And if you're thinking, "I'm really not sure what Web 2.0 is but at this point, I'm too embarrassed to ask anybody," take heart - you are not alone. A good place to start is the Wikipedia Web 2.0 article, which tells us:

Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services — such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies — that let people collaborate and share information online in previously unavailable ways. O'Reilly Media, in collaboration with MediaLive International, used the phrase as a title for a series of conferences and since then it has become a popular (though ill-defined and often criticized) buzzword amongst certain technical and marketing communities.

The article then gives some characteristics of Web 2.0, most of which frankly don't differentiate it from Web 1.0 (or 1.5 or 1.9.2 release 3, or whatever the hell it was we all must have been using a little while ago).

Do I sound skeptical? If so, it's because I am - most buzzwords become ways to make something ordinary sound new and sexy, and I think Web 2.0 is one of those.

Most of what's being called "Web 2.0" appears to be applications and ideas that have developed incrementally over the years, now wrapped up with a big digital bow. I could cross from skepticism to cynicism by adding, "so that they can provide fodder for marketing new books and conferences," but I'm actually not that much of a cynic about this stuff.

Take a look at this Wired News article about the best and worst "Web 2.0" applications. Don't worry about who's a winner or loser, because the list is quite idiosyncratic; look at what's considered Web 2.0: sharing your photos online (how groundbreaking!). Various forms of social networking. A browser that's not supposed to keep history or caches.

This ideas may be good, bad, or ugly; what they aren't is anything that suggests that kind of big change that sticking a "2.0" after something indicates. They are the same ideas that have been driving the web forever - sharing information, connecting people, and so on - getting more useful (hopefully) as technology, business models, and knowledge about how people really use these things improves incrementally.

So if this is the Web 2.0 world, we got there by leaving the Web 1.9.8 world behind, and the Web 2.0.1 world is probably already arriving.

All that said, if you're a marketing or communicator, it might not matter - because somebody is going to ask you about your organization's Web 2.0 strategy, and you're going to have to answer them. So read up on what Web 2.0 is, and isn't, and ideally you'll have an answer that satisfied today's buzzword compliance standards... but doesn't leave you with an embarrassing quote hanging around in a year or two when a new buzzword has left Web 2.0 in its grave.  

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