Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Web 2.0 backlash

I can't decide whether to be serious or not in this blog, so I'll be both. First, blowing up the point of the following post, is this site that will build you your own Web 2.0 company. Now that's out of the way, I can be semi-serious.

Web 2.0 is going through a typical technology hype cycle, cresting with the recent trendola conference and now with some backlash starting to set in. As usual, I'm way out of sync -- I just got started using a few weeks ago and it was only a few days ago that I really had the epiphany, felt the power of it, got absorbed in the growing collectivity.

Blogging is part of it, I'm trying to get with the program despite being an old isolationist fart whose idea of computational nirvana is to immerse myself in a Lisp environment, just me and the symbolic structures, no other people necessary. Well, I'm trying to get past that. I'm actually working on a project that (crazily) has multiple people living in the same Lisp environment.

Summary: Web 2.0 is obviously a hype bubble, but like Web 1.0 the hype bubble is just an overamplification of some real advances. Interaction on the network is starting to get more conversational, collective, and participatory, while interesting new forms of media are being invented on a very rapid basis. Somewhere I called this a "cambrian explosion of web software".

To take some of the critics seriously:

This essay on The Amorality of Web 2.0 came out awhile back and is being widely read and commented. I like how it punctures some of the more rapturous rhetoric that pours out some of our more, ah, effusive technopundits. Most of the substance of this post (and later followups) are based on a critique of Wikipedia's quality. I have to partly agree with this, and to tell the truth I've never quite seen the point of the Wikipedia. But the same critique does not apply to other Web 2.0 media, like tagging (which has a more workable model for joint authorship) and blogs (which are a bazarre of conversations rather than a jointly-built textual cathedral). The end of the essay is worth paying attention to as well, as he gets back to the title and points out that there's no guarantee that a world taken over by Web 2.0 is better.

In particular, if low-quality, free, amateur productions (Wikipedia) kill high-quality but expensive productions (Encyclopedia Britannica), has the world gotten better? I used to have this worry about open source and sometimes still do.

Joel Spolsky, on the other hand, is just being irritable and reactionary. Many other developers have echoed him. Can't say I blame them -- the antithesis of hype is anti-hype. What we need is a theory of hype -- some way to analyze technology trends that can filter out the hype and distinguish the reality underneath. Remember "Push"? "Kiss your browser goodbye: The radical future of media beyond the Web." Uh huh. Well, push was hyped to the max (defined as being the subject of a Wired magazine story), generated some companies which either faded or found something else to do, and now, eight years later, is back in the form of RSS feeds, is real and useful, and is being swept up in a larger hype bubble. It would be nice to understand the dynamics of such things, but I guess that's what VCs do.

1 comment:

goatchowder said...

Not just VC's, but anyone involved in the business end of high tech. As a former product manager, I've been burned by these things and profited from them too. Here's what I think of it:

If you are too early to market, you will get your ass handed to you. You do not want to be on the bleeding edge of technical innovation. You want to be on the bleeding edge in technical *adoption*, and there is often a long gap between these two events. Timing it right is essential for success.

The best model I've seen yet is that of PR puke Regis McKenna's from his classic book, "Crossing the Chasm". McKenna is perhaps best known as Apple's PR guy from the glory days.

Stuff like "push" (heh, you remember Castanet too?) is a great example. The technology was way ahead of the market. If blogs had existed in 1997, perhaps "push" would have taken off. But they didn't-- "push" was a great example of what we used to call "a solution looking for a problem". The problem being that cambrian explosion of daily-updated blogs out there-- which didn't exist until MySQL/Apache/PHP/Linux came through its "chasm" to obtain widespread adoption... anyway you get my point.

In my day, timing the introduction of products and technologies was a black art. I've gotten it right only slightly better than random chance. Most of the people above me in the food chain were batting far below that.

The best time to introduce a new technology is just slightly before everyone intuitively understands why you need it. Anytime before that and you will be wasting a ton of marketing money on *educating* people as to the need-- worst thing you could be pissing away money on. Anytime after that and you'll be beaten to market-- which means you'll have to again throw a lot of money at it, compete brutally, or try one of the many extant tricks to leapfrog ahead.

Come to think of it, Vegas has better odds.