In which I try to overcome my native abhorrence of the buzzword du jour and end up jumping on the bandwagon in my own particular way
Forgive the title, I’ve been playing Phoenix Wright.
I hung out with some of the Web2.0 crowd recently, and although there was predictable talk of broken business models, the vibe was positive, the environment was nice, the people happy, and the future was bright. It seemed like a bit of a contrast with Rob Pikes polemic that I read recently. He is specifically talking about Systems Software Research, but actually I’ve heard similar views about almost all aspects of computer science. When you consider it like that, I can believe that at least with the theory of computer science (including operating systems, databases, programming langauges), humanity made some enormous steps a few decades ago but has been making baby steps ever since.
One of the reasons people (including me) give for complaining that Web2.0 is overhyped is that it is not a “new paradigm”. People have been sharing video over networks since the clubs that sent out flipbooks in the post. They’ve been sharing public diaries over computer networks since the days of unix and .plan. The web was invented to be read/write, yet it’s only now that that is filtering down to the public. I remember the days when a blog was called a “web page”. For conversations and debate, little has improved on the flexibility and power of usenet and irc. However, the revolution is not in what is possible, it’s in who is using it. If we can truly put the Joe in Web2.Schmoe, then that is something to get excited about. The reason “social” type applications have really taken off is at least partly because these kinds of applications need a broad level of adoption to be feasible. And as more people and more things are networked, new tiers of applications will become useful, and be written.
Most applications of the internet were invented to be subversive, moving control to the (necessarily skilled, back then but less so now) user, and away from authority figures and institutions. When the public first started to get involved and interested, it was too late, the anarchic applications and protocols had already been sidelined, legislation was steamrolling forwards, slowly but surely, and people didn’t even know the values that guided the original creations. That’s why practically nobody ever used http put (wiki was built in to HTTP 1.1). But there is a fight back. It may look like we’re building a whole new layer on top of old technology that was always designed to do what we want, but the reason for that is that we have to be where the people are. Now the people are here, we have to bring the original internet back, in all it’s anarchic, social and postmodern glory. That is what Web2.0 is.
And it’s working.