on a name (web 2.0 versus the social web)

i first came across the term “web 2.0” a few years ago when i had to write a blog entry about its use for NGOs as part of a job application. i had to do it in english and french. i bet someone had a good laugh about that considering i have minus 100 intelligence en francais. anyway, i thought web 2.0 was one either one of those masturbatory marketing buzzwords (which it is, thanks to tim o’reilly) or one of those terms people who have no idea what they’re talking about use to look smart. so i was totally prepared to ignore it and never think about it again.

but i got the job (i guess my nerd skillz are better than my french) and i quickly learnt that web 2.0 was just about the only way to describe all this cool new stuff happening on the web. oddly though, i was already aware of what web 2.0 describes, i just didn’t see it as so clearly different from the way the web was before. its like the term has changed our perception of the web, like the creation of a syndrome or a disease by naming of set of symptoms which can be treated, stigmatized, studied, or otherwise embed with meaning.(schizophrenia didn’t “exist” before someone named it, drug companies create syndromes all the time to sell more drugs).

anyway, i started using the term (even though i quietly threw up in my mouth each time, as cato would say). having a nice simple term is pretty handy when you want to discuss something without having to go into a lengthy description of what you mean each time. the only problem though is that the term web 2.0 only makes sense to other web geeks, and even then its really pretty nebulous (is it the rounded corners? the gibberish names? the power of many eyeballs? wait… wasn’t that usenet?). worse still, people who have never heard it before find it rather confusing and think it actually refers to a concrete set of technologies.

the other problem is that it did start out as an elite marketing buzzword, created by tim o’reilly. according to paul graham, he actually had a conference and then famously tried to sue another conference for using it in their name, even though web 2.0 is supposed to be about openness, user generated content and all that. and as an annoying marketing buzzword, it started out with more hype than substance. its gotten progressively worse, especially with people talking about web 3.0 and 4.0 without any idea what they’re saying.

all in all, the term sucks. but we keep using it cuz there’s no alternative. and this is why i’ve decided to start using “the social web” to describe SNSes et al. instead. it’s actually descriptive, and doesn’t have a misleading version number in it. i’ve noticed a few other bloggers using it too, such as ian wilker. since i’m all about “be the change” i went and updated the wikipedia entry to reflect this new definition too >:] let the editwars begin!

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