OK, What Does Web 2.0 Mean This Week?

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As an editor, I have this hang-up about knowing what the words and phrases I use actually mean.


So, nebulous catchphrases like "Web 2.0" make me nervous. In fact, Web 2.0 has been making me nervous for about one-and-a-half years now, ever since the giddy coverage of an O'Reilly conference brought the term to the public light and emblazoned SocialText founder Ross Mayfield's functional definition in my personal lexicon:


"Web 2.0 is made of people."


In addition to appealing to my geek fixation on '70s dystopian sci-flicks, Mayfield's definition made sense to me, given that it focuses on what Web 2.0 does, as opposed to how it's delivered or what it looks like. Tim O'Reilly was helpful as usual, by defining Web 2.0 as "an architecture of participation."


OK, I get it. Web 2.0 is software that lets people create information and share it with a group, with the idea that the group will somehow grow or improve that information, and then share it back. Makes sense -- gotta be reasonable applications for that.


Jump forward 18 months. Yesterday, our Ann All blogged on a report by AMI-Partners that says SMBs are proving to be leading adopters of Web 2.0. The report then goes on to cite SMBs' eagerness for SaaS as a leading indicator of this trend.


OK, so, sales lead management software is "made of people?"


Don't get me wrong -- I understand that the lines can get a little blurry. After all, Salesforce.com does share and manage info across a group of people with like goals, and certainly users can grow that information. And, hey, you get at it via a Web browser. But we have a content database form that pops open in a Web browser, and I certainly wouldn't call it Web 2.0, any more than I would an online word processor that just happens to have been purchased by Google.


I was most stricken by AMI-Partners' assertion that Web 2.0 is about "the power of the masses." SMBs have "masses" of people to drive the content value proposition at the heart of Web 2.0? Aren't most SaaS vendors start-ups (aka, non-massive) companies that are taking advantage of the implementation and pricing flexibility offered by pure Web-based delivery to tackle verticals and niches as best-of-breed (or maybe even new breed)?


Again, this is just a didactic rant of an editor who likes to know what terms mean. As a reluctant businessman, clear terminology is also a nice-to-have. We once fielded a question for an investor about why we did not choose Web 2.0 as our technical platform.


Seems to me SMBs will most benefit from the "the power of the masses" via open source, where masses of developers are working on the root tech that so often ends up in their shops via SaaS.


It's telling that in his blog, Mayfield so often uses the term "Enterprise 2.0." I'm increasingly convinced that true enterprises -- with their own "masses" of people spread out over geography, business units and cultures -- are best positioned to take advantage of platforms that harness and cultivate otherwise leaky knowledge processes.


SMBs can use some of this tech too, of course, but the returns will be lower and, frankly, file servers will never be out of style.


Were I smarter, I'd come up with a punchy yet meaningful definition of SMB 2.0. Something like, "Get Your Hands off My Margins, You Damn Dirty Maintenance Fees!"