Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com on the hype over “Web 2.0”:
This idea was the backdrop for the recent news that Google and Sun Microsystems had decided to work together on… well, something. If Web 2.0 fans were hoping for a blockbuster announcement that would add some fireworks to the concept — and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clear that they were, given the amount of speculation that preceded the Google-Sun press conference — what they got was more of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“damp squib,” as someone put it. Even though the actual news was underwhelming, however (Sun agreed to bundle GoogleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s toolbar with its Java engine), the two hinted that there would be more, and some observers see Google eventually offering desktop-style applications in addition to its web-based email and satellite photo services.
In that sense, Web 2.0 is seen by some as fulfilling the initial promise of Netscape CommunicationsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬Å“browser as platform” strategy, a plan that was cut short by a combination of MicrosoftÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s market dominance and NetscapeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own failed business model. Web 2.0 is also seen as a step on the road toward the Ã¢â‚¬Å“network is the computer” model Sun Microsystems and others have been pushing for the past decade or so. But is the fact that so much attention is being paid to small web-based startups — not to mention the money that is being paid by Yahoo, AOL, Google and others to acquire them — a sign that Web 2.0 is real, or a sign of Internet hype 2.0?
The first hallmark of a new tech movement has already been fulfilled: a conference. Tech publishing firm OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Reilly Media held the second annual Web 2.0 conference this month, populated by dozens of start-ups, as well as representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, America Online and Google, not to mention dozens of Ã¢â‚¬Å“bloggers.” Along with GoogleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expected announcement, much of the talk was about some of the web-based companies that have been acquired recently, such as the Weblogs Inc. network founded by Jason Calacanis — former editor of Silicon Alley Reporter magazine. The company is a network of blogs, run by hired writer/editors who regularly post on a variety of topics, including gadgets (Engadget), cars (Autoblog), movies (Cinematical) and luxury items (Luxist). Mr. Calacanis sold the company to AOL for $35-million.
Yahoo bought Flickr, the Vancouver-based photo-sharing network, for a similar sum earlier this year. Many Web observers see Flickr as being a quintessential Web 2.0 company, for a number of reasons. One is that its services (photo sharing) are provided exclusively over the Internet; another is that Flickr — like other Web 2.0 services such as del.icio.us, the bookmark-sharing network — relies heavily on the use of Ã¢â‚¬Å“tags” or labels that allow users to organize the site themselves rather than having it imposed on them; and Flickr allows others to use its application programming interface, or API.
Already, there are services such as Writely.com that offer free document creation and editing, and others that allow users to interactively edit documents together. Meebo is a browser-based instant messaging application that interfaces with MSN, Yahoo and AIM, and Zimbra offers email and a calendar function. And the big players are rushing to join the party too: Microsoft is working on an upgrade for its Hotmail service (code-named Kahuna) that is all done using AJAX, and Yahoo is working on something similar, based on technology that was developed by Oddpost, which Yahoo bought last year.
So is Web 2.0 just hype? Some clearly feel the deals are coming a little too quickly. Kevin Burton, developer of the popular news feed-reader NewsMonster, said recently on his blog that Ã¢â‚¬Å“a lot of the recent news around Web 2.0 is starting to frighten me. There is just too much money flying around with too much hype and too little value.” Mr. Burton added that he Ã¢â‚¬Å“loves Web 2.0″ but Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just don’t want to see a repeat of the last .bomb where the market was hyped only to implode later.” Others, however, believe that underneath the deals and conferences, the idea of Web 2.0 is the beginning of something important. And if Microsoft loses its dominance as a result of such web-based services, they believe, so much the better.”