The conference was always one of the best — the guests included a lot of A-list CEOs in the hot seat (Steve Ballmer, Carol Bartz, Mark Zuckerberg) and entertaining talkers with important ideas (super-agent Ari Emmanuel, Senator Ron Wyden). The cohosts Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle never let them off easily.
But the term itself was always confusing.
Was it a usage term, referring to things like more active user participation (remember when “blogging” was new?) and the Web as a “platform” instead of just a collection of flat sites?
Was it a statement of confidence in consumer Web business models after the dot-com crash?
O’Reilly tried to explain it in this 2005 essay, using a lot of examples. Web 2.0 was about Google replacing Netscape, services replacing packaged software, and the long tail replacing top-down content pushed through a few tightly controlled channels.
All valid. But those trends started long before 2004, and have continued through the present day. They’re just the Web. Not Web 2.0.
The Web is unpredictable and does not move in discrete steps. It flows. Nobody controls it, and it has no release schedule.
That’s particularly important to remember today as companies race to mark off their own little boundaries on the Web and turn the mobile Internet into a collection of isolated apps.
As Google’s Larry Page put it to Bloomberg BusinessWeek today, “It’s the tendency of the Internet to move into a well-guarded state.”
O’Reilly and Battelle were always guarding against this tendency, and did a lot to call attention to companies that seemed to be moving in that direction — Battelle’s 2010 interrogation of Mark Zuckerberg stands out as an example.
So the venue’s gone, for now. But the idea that the Web is important, and has to be guarded, has a lot of torch bearers now — just look at the outrage against SOPA and how that played out.
So forget Web 2.0. It’s just the Web.
And let there be no “Web 3.0.” Please.