[iDC] Against Web 2.0

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Tue May 30 15:58:30 EDT 2006

Dear all,

It's uplifting to read Matt Waxman's beautifully enthusiastic testimony
to sociable media. I'm with you, Matt. While criticisms related to the
participatory panopticon (David Golumbia) and the artist as beta-tester
for the industry syndrome (Rob van Kranenburg) are valid, they should
not keep us from using sociable media to our advantage. 

³Competitive branding became a necessity of the machine age ­ within a
context of manufactured sameness, image-based difference had to be
manufactured with the product.² 

Naomi Klein (2000) No Logo. London: Flamingo. p 11.

Adam Hyde writes that being annoyed by Web 2.0 obscures the fact that it
is actually achieving what many of us have been hoping for: "Isn't it
all just namespace?" Who cares about terms like Web 2.0? I do, as
branding is meant to explain and frame the world and the way we act in
it. The official discourse of Web 2.0 has become an important
placeholder for corporate agendas. It attempts to frame the emergent
phenomena of podcasting, blogging, social bookmarking, wikis, RSS,
Wikipedia, and strangers-helping-strangers-to-find-info networks. The
corporate buzzword machines spits out more trend-aware terms by the day:
"crowdsourcing," "synergy," and the various false renditions of the term

The term that is so close to Mr. O'Reilly's heart that he now tries to
patent it. He sits in his office and writes cease-and-desist letters
that he sends to those who want to use "Web 2.0" in the title of their
event, as Ken Jordan informs us. Can you hear the echo of "Let's not be
the paramedic for the crashed brand name Web 2.0" throughout the


Armand Mattelart describes the progression of branding:

 "During the second half of the 1990s ... marketing went through what
has retrospectively been called the branding revolution. Beginning with
the proliferation of Customer Relations Management in the 1980s (Turow,
1997) brands began to be understood less as Œsymbolic extensions of
products¹ (cf. Gardner and Levy, 1955) and more as virtual communities
constructed in media-space (Arvidsson, forthcoming;  Lury, nd.). Brand
value was increasingly understood to derive not so much from the product
itself as from the particular experience or emotion that resulted from
the inter-textual links that brand managers constructed around the
product (Shields, 2003; Lash, 2002). "

Mattelart, A. (1996) The Invention of Communication, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, p.11.

The "construction of virtual communities" with devices of affect make
Web 2.0 a picture book example of branding.

I am against the term as the new newness that it proposes is a lie.
(Thanks, Alex. I share your analysis.) The sociable web media that the
term refers to are not new. Online group formation is not new.  A useful
text in this context is Christopher Allen's "Tracing the Evolution of
Social Software." The level of sociability and participation in the web
applications in question has reached a new level. In March the Web had a
total of 694 million unique visitors (ie. 152.1 million in the USA and
74.7 million in China) and The Washington Post reports that in March
2006 alone 15.6 million people used Blogger.com, and that MySpace.com
had 37 million contributing visitors that month alone. Such social
networking sites attracted 45% of active Internet users in the US in


Consequently, I disagree with David Golumbia who writes that "these
features were in many ways inherent in the network for a long time, and
that they are not going to "transform things" now any more now than they
did before." The surfership is not merely online for a kind of
neo-psycho-geo drifting (Richard Rogers' term). Full-blown
transformation is already taking place and this change is reflected by
Eric Kluitenberg who writes that the "quest for self-determination ...
and people's understanding that they are not merely consuming a product,
but that they are actually participating in a meaningful social process
not guided by an extrinsic logic (profit), something that rather has
intrinsic, or 'sovereign' value." I much prefer Yochai Benkler to Mark
van Doorn who constructs unlikely linkages like that between the
experience economy and business' deepest desire to care for people's

Benkler describes the transformation that David questions: "The
networked information economy makes individuals better able to do things
for and by themselves, and makes them less susceptible to manipulation
by others than they were in the mass-media culture. In this sense, the
emergence of this new set of technical, economic, social, and
institutional relations can increase the relative role that each
individual is able to play in authoring his or her own life. The
networked information economy also promises to provide a much more
robust platform for public debate. It enables citizens to participate in
public conversation continuously and pervasively, not as passive
recipients of ³received wisdom² from professional talking heads, but as
active participants in conversations carried out at many levels of
political and social structure.  ... At a more foundational level of
collective understanding, the shift from an industrial to a networked
information economy increases the extent to which individuals can become
active participants in producing their own cultural environment. It
opens the possibility of a more critical and reflective culture." 

Benkler, Y. (2006) The Wealth of Networks. New Haven: Yale UP. p 130.

This describes some of the ongoing transformation of sociable web media
that foster sovereign, democratic values. They are not a fad but a fact,
as Benkler puts it.  And with Jon Ippolito, I invite you to give it a

Web 2.0  R.I.P.   


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