But labels can also be arbitrary and artificial, which render them useless for helping people understand what a specific technology or a product is really all about.
Even worse, a catchy label can make a bad business plan look like a sure winner. Vague labels dont help people make informed investment or buying decisions.
"Web 2.0" is an example of one of those terms that is so broad and so vague that its nearly impossible to pin down what it really means.
The term was invented less than two years ago in a brainstorming session between publisher OReilly Media and a marketing company, MediaLive International.
Tim OReilly, founder and CEO of the company that bears his name, attests that the term Web 2.0 was conceived as a rallying call for the recovery of Web business in the post-dot-com crash era.
Once the term was conceived, it became the name of an Internet business and technology conference sponsored by OReilly Media. Showing how fast this term has caught on, OReilly said that as of September 2005, a Google search returned more than 9.5 million citations for "Web 2.0."
Web 1.0 was lead by companies such as Akamai, DoubleClick, Britannica Online, Ofoto.com and mp3.com, OReilly said. These ventures were succeeded by BitTorrent, Google AdSense, Wikipedia, Flickr and even a resurrected Napster. In this original form the Web 2.0 definition almost sounds reasonable.
But the problem is that the term, perhaps like all good marketing terms, is as malleable as kids modeling clay. Anybody who doing business on the Web can claim that they were adherents of the Web 2.0 movement.
I recently received an e-mail message from a public relations operative who blithely claimed that his client "has been obsessed with the vision of Web 2.0 for at least 10 years."
Its a true visionary who started thinking about Web 2.0 before most of the rest of the world had managed to sort out Web 1.0.
Then there is the question of when Web 1.0 supposedly ended and Web 2.0 started. It wasnt the Web that melted down. It was the rotten business plans built on rank speculation and pie-in-the-sky assumptions about what Web technology would do for sales and marketing that caused the dot-com collapse.