[iDC] Against Web 2.0

Alex Halavais halavais at gmail.com
Fri May 26 19:03:17 EDT 2006

> Next time you hear Web 2.0 feel the sour aftertaste.

Synesthesia strikes! :) Your critique seems to be on a couple of grounds:

1. It's not new.

Right, early web (and earlier applications of the internet) certainly
drew on "user-produced" forms. You can go further, and say that the
same was true of, for example, radio.

What is new is that--if you are to believe McChesney et al--the
commercialization of the Web was inevitable, and with it the
centralization of content production. That there seems to be a
backwards shift, and a *massive* re-assertion of user production is
not only new to the web, it's new when it comes to communication
technologies over the last century or so.

Moreover, the producers are *not* the early adopters at this point, so
much as they are the early majority. It is unusual to see such a large
chunk of society producing blogs, photography, music, etc, and sharing
widely. I think we are far from the point at which a real
cross-section of society would be engaged in this, but I think that it
already represents a significant cultural shift.

2. The term is too closely associated with entrepreneurism.

Yes, there is certainly a feeling that this is a replacement term for
"dot com," and the magazines that cover it naturally fall into the
trap of placing it in such a frame. But this is the unfortunate result
of any idea that gains rapid popularity, and attracts those seeking
profit from it. The only reason it hasn't happened to "sociable media"
is that it isn't a widely used term, and isn't yet associated with
cultural changes.

But I think more interesting is the beginnings of the kinds of
disruptions of commercial processes that the Mondo 2000 crowd, and
even the Wired crowd, saw as inevitable. I think Weinberger is dead
wrong, by the way: people did come online to go to Amazon.com. It's
easy to forget that the real explosion of the web came through the
often disparaged "AOLers" and that these are the folks who are driving
at least some of the Web 2.0 buzz through their participation in
Facebook, MySpace, flickr, digg.

But they also came online for Ebay. There is an interesting economic
thing happening associated with Web 2.0, and it may be the
ebayification of online commerce. Even Amazon feels a bit like Ebay
these days. The ways that people are spending money, and who they are
buying from (cf Second Life, etc.) is heavily grounded in the deep
structure of the web, and it would be a mistake to ignore the ways in
which social computing has changed that structure.

It is very safe to go with McChesney--who would, no doubt, have the
same reaction to the idea of the American Dream. It is perhaps a bit
quixotic to assume that *this* is the counter-example, the one time
the distributed producers actually provide a space for a sort of
continuing decentralization, a self-refreshing autonomous zone. That
everyone that jumped for the earlier technological sublime was wrong,
but that this time it is different. But at the same time, I'd hate to
be the one who missed a revolution when the signs were so clearly in
view. Maybe this time isn't a dress rehearsal. Where's my Kool Aid?

- Alex

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// Alexander C. Halavais
// Social Architect
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