Web 2.0 Label Lacks Meaning, Magic

Opinion: Web 2.0 might have seemed a good name for a new conference or a rallying call for the recovery of Web business, but it fails to meaningfully define the evolution of the Internet.

People love labels, especially marketers. Labels help people wrap ideas, products and markets into neat packages that are easier to understand. Things that are easier to understand are also easier to sell.

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."

OReilly defines Web 2.0 in part as representing the new technologies that have emerged from the wreckage of the dot-com collapse in the fall of 2001. AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Ruby on Rails and wikis are some of the technologies on the approved Web 2.0 list.

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.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read D. Keith Robinsons column on why we should pay attention to Web 2.0.

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.

Next Page: Wheres the magic?

John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...