The Difficult to Define Web 2.0

Carl Weinschenk

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Web 2.0, which brings voice, video and data together in new and exciting ways, is that its ambitious nature and breathtaking potential tend to get lost because it is so difficult to define.


Whether we like it or not, the success of an application or platform is, to a great extent, dependent on its accessibility. Successful products are defined easily. The most successful -- the legends -- become the definitions ("Make a Xerox of this." "Hand me a Kleenex.")


That brings us to Web 2.0. Great operational potential, lousy marketing potential. The reason that it's so hard to put a label on Web 2.0 is that it is a process, not a thing. The editor in us puts it differently: Web 2.0 is a verb, not a noun. This shouldn't matter much to developers and new media types who live this stuff everyday. But to business people whose main concerns are in other areas, the neither fish nor foul nature of Web 2.0 is a great reason to pay it no mind.


In this O'Reilly Radar posting, Tim O'Reilly gamely tries to nail down what Web 2.0 is. It's interesting, because he is addressing a technical audience. His description is fine. Indeed, it is quite good because it succeeds in getting across the point that Web 2.0 is more than the contents of a certain tool chest. Web 2.0 is really undefinable, in a certain sense, because the elements that comprise it can always create something new. That new thing will generate the same question: Is this application or platform Web 2.0?


On one level, it shouldn't matter that Web 2.0 is a bit amorphous. But it does, simply because there seems to be a rule of thumb that any ambiguity enables marketers to move in and take over. This isn't a criticism -- this is what marketers do.


The end result, however, is a dislocation in the marketplace. What is Web 2.0? Is that application Web 2.0? How about this one? The bottom line is that users should simply forget the term. The real question shouldn't be whether a service or application fits a definition, but whether it helps the person using it save money, make money or do his or her work more efficiently.

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