TITLE: Is Web 2.0 a Mirage? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 03, 2006 4:52 PM DESC: Doing research for OOPSLA 2006 tutorials led me into the Web 2.0 discussion. ----- BODY: Everyone is talking about Web 2.0 these days. This isn't the sort of buzzword that tends to absorb me, as patterns and refactoring and agile methods did, but as tutorials chair for OOPSLA 2006, I am keen to get a sense of what developers are talking about and interested in learning about these days. Web 2.0 is everywhere, and so I've been reading a bit deeper to see what we should offer, technology-wise, at the conference. But the sociology of the term and its penumbra has been as much intriguing as its technology. Christian Sepulveda gave thought to why Web 2.0 had captured mindshare now and how it was different from what we've been doing. His answer to "why now?" centered on the convergence of intellectual supply and demand: "The demand for a user centric web, where sharing, communication and a rich experience is the norm, is intersecting the availability of technology, such as RSS and AJAX, to make it happen." How is Web 2.0 different from Web 1.x? It is driven by the demands and needs of real users with real problems. So much of the previous web boom, he feels, was driven by a "build it and they will come" mentality. Of course, that mentality worked for a lot of ideas that took root back in the old days -- even the 20th century! -- and now have matured. Wikis and blogs are only two such ideas. Paul Graham took a somewhat more dispassionate position on Web 2.0, which isn't surprising given his general outlook on the world and, more relevant here, his own experiences doing cool web stuff back before the "availability of technology, such as RSS and AJAX, to make it happen." Here's my precis of his article, consisting of its first and last paragraphs:
Does "Web 2.0" mean anything? Till recently I thought it didn't, but the truth turns out to be more complicated. Originally, yes, it was meaningless. Now it seems to have acquired a meaning. And yet those who dislike the term are probably right, because if it means what I think it does, we don't need it. The fact that Google is a "Web 2.0" company shows that, while meaningful, the term is also rather bogus. It's like the word "allopathic." It just means doing things right, and it's a bad sign when you have a special word for that.
Graham applauds the fact that Ajax now brings the ability to develop sites that take advantage of the web's possibilities to everyday developers. I found his discussion of democracy on the web, exemplified by sites such as del.icio.us, Wikipedia, Reddit, and Digg, to be right on the mark. The original promise of the web was how it could help us share information, but that promise was only the beginning of something bigger. It took guys like Ward Cunningham to show us the way. This sense of democracy extends beyond participants in social conversation to those folks we in software have always called users. It turns out that users get to participate in the conversation, too! In the March 2006 issue of Dr Dobb's Journal, editor at large Michael Swaine expressed a more cynical version of Graham's take:
Web 2.0 is a commemorative coin minted in celebration of the end of the dot-com crash. Like all commemorative coins, it has no actual value.
So, we should focus our attention on the technologies that buttress the term, but as Graham points out the ideas behind the technologies aren't new; they are just in a new syntax, a new framework, a new language. The software world creates its own troubles when it recycles old ideas in new form, and then complains that the world is changing all the time. The cynical view on AJAX itself is expressed with great amusement by Brian Foote in What's New Here is that Nothing is New Here:
The fascinating thing about Ajax is that it is an amalgam of existing technologies that all date back to the twentieth century. It's what the Web 2.0 crowd might call a mash-up. Only the name is new.
Of course, all this cynicism doesn't change the fact that today's developers need to learn the current technologies and how to make them play with the rest of their software. So we'll certainly offer the best tutorials we can for the folks who come to OOPSLA'06. And, as always, we should be careful not to let our nostalgia for our old tools blind us. For a sanity check on a slightly different topic (though perhaps more similar than the subject indicates), check out this article by Adam Connor. Busy, busy, busy. -----