Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

Via The Rodent’s Burrow, I come across this YouTube video on Web 2.0:

It’s an interesting video, but I have to admit that the term Web 2.0 always bothered me. This is odd, because obsessing over terminology is also annoying. As you can see, I’m in a bit of a bind here. Web 2.0 has become a shorthand for the current renaissance in web development which is focused new web services and applications that emphasize social collaboration and openness. That, of course, is a lame definition. Most definitions of Web 2.0 are. However, I think Paul Graham hits the nail on the head in his essay on the subject:

Web 2.0 means using the web the way it’s meant to be used. The “trends” we’re seeing now are simply the inherent nature of the web emerging from under the broken models that got imposed on it during the Bubble.

Right on. Key to understanding “Web 2.0” is the concept of the internet itself. I should also note that the web and the internet are not the same thing. The internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks (i.e. the physical hardware), the web is a collection of interconnected documents and data that lives on the internet. If you don’t understand the historical resources that lead to the topology of the internet, “Web 2.0” won’t make much sense. The internet is made by human beings, and it’s history extends back to the 1950s (well, the branch of mathematics that represents our thinking about networks is called graph theory, which finds its roots in the early eighteenth century, but the physical internet has its roots in ARPANET, the 1950s governmental precursor to the internet), but it was not a centrally designed system.

Structurally, the internet is like an ecosystem. It’s essentially a self-organizing system, and the gigantic information resource we call the web is the emergent result of billions of interactions. Note that while this information resource was the goal, the system’s designers did not go about planning what that information would look like. Their primary strategy was to build an efficient system of collaboration. Sound familiar? “Web 2.0” isn’t really new. It’s the whole point of the internet. Sure, there are specific technological advances and tools that have accellerated the process (i.e. thanks to AJAX, javascript actually kinda became a legitimate web-based scripting language), but the technology of the internet and the web are just the natural extensions of the grand experiment of life, driven by evolution and selection.

The web isn’t all that different, but we are, and we’re taking advantage of it.

Update 2.14.07: It seems that this post has kicked off a little discussion of Intellectual Property, starting over at 79Soul with a response by me here.

4 thoughts on “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us”

  1. Very cool video. I’d say Paul Graham hits the nail on the head there in that quote too. “Web 2.0,” as obnoxious a term as it is, does seem to be pretty much what makes the web so exciting in the first place: this interconnected, worldwide, collaborative… thing that seems like it would be the natural extension of any sort of global framework where anyone can have a piece for themselves.

  2. Exactly. My instinct is actually to have some fun with it. I think we’re really at Web 3.24, with Web 3.3 in Beta (the Beta’s the one everyone uses anyway). What I’m really looking forward to is Web XT.

  3. Haha! Like how Flickr is in “gamma” now, which I think is just their acknowledgment to how meaningless being in “beta” was after being in beta for several years.

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