Thoughts On Web 2.0

Much of this post / rant (however you wish to view it, and trust me you will formulate some sort of a view on this entire issue when you get to the end of the article) is based on Elliot Jay Stocks presentation that he made at the Future of Web Design 2007 titled Destroying the Web 2.0 look. I was fortunate enough to catch the presentation and I was so happy that Elliot had the courage to stand up on that stage and serve a lot of designers the coffee that was very much needed for us to wake up and realize the situation at hand. I have since then always kept what he said at the back of my head and one technique I use to really make something sink in is to write it out! So here goes, its been a while and I hope I do the same justice to this topic as Elliot did. Enjoy!

What does Web 2.0 really mean? I have been in meetings with team leaders, colleagues and clients or just casually talking to friends who work with web and I cannot tell you how many times that the term Web 2.0 has been thrown around with absolutely no regard whatsoever. Nobody has even thought about the fact that they were just piggybacking on what they heard from someone who probably heard it from someone else down the road, so much so we have lost and forgotten its meaning completely. It has morphed into a look because people only wanted to see it for what it was on the surface. Ask anyone what it means and this is a checklist that you will hear them go through:-

Are these people fucking serious? Is this the extent to which we have bastardized the Web 2.0 moniker? Do you know what comes across my mind when I hear the aforementioned “criterion” blurted out? Only one word can encapsulate what I am repeating to my self. CLICHE. Where did all this come from? From the same people that produced this sexy laptop whose keyboard I am bludgeoning as I furiously type out this entry. The undisputed kings of gloss and sheen themselves, Apple! This has been the look that Apple has always portrayed, but they have constantly evolved it as they have their designs. This is the only way to avoid cliches. Anything overused will without a doubt become a cliche very fast.

Where is this rampant?

I am looking for full time employment now and this entails looking at online classifieds advertising for designers. This is one of the places where the Web 2.0 misconception is most prevalent. The Web recruitment industry, senior management and marketers form the 3 main groups where this term is thrown around worse than a dog using a doll for its chew toy. The online job boards are littered with ads that start with so and so are looking for a “Web 2.0 designer” or for a “Web Designer Who Can Make Sites Look Web 2.0”.

For these people, they are simply equating the term with business success and in their world its the buzz word or trend that makes a business most profitable the term to piggyback on. Why are these poor souls so misdirected? They have been completely kept in the dark when comes down to the actual design process is why. This is precisely why I have always been harping on why we should involve users as much as possible so that they can learn and know what is going on.

I would like to take this opportunity to let recruiters, senior management and marketers know that I have nothing against them. I am merely being honest and calling it as I see it. If you have made this mistake, then no worry, simply read on and learn about what it really is. Recruiters, the next time you refer to it in the right manner you may end up impressing the technology professional you are conversing with and earn yourself some reputation points. Senior management and marketers, the next time a design team tries to shut you out of the process ask to be included (if they are not practicing user centered design, you might as well shop around for another firm if you are really investing some serious cash in your design efforts).

So what is Web 2.0 really?

Wikipedia states that Web 2.0 is…

“Web 2.0” refers to what is perceived as a second generation of web development and web design. It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, User-centered design1 and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and web applications. Examples include social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies.

Tim O’Reilly on Web 2.0..

Web1.0 ——> Web 2.0
DoubleClick ——> Google AdSense
Ofoto ——> Google AdSense
Akamai ——> BitTorrent ——> Napster
Britannica Online ——> Wikipedia
Domain Name Speculation ——> Search Engine Optimization

Dion Hinchcliffe on Web 2.0..

The Web and all its connected devices as one global platform of reusable services and data consumption and remixing from all sources (particularly user generated data), the continuous and seamless update of software and this data; often very rapidly, through the use of rich and interactive user interfaces and an architecture of participation that encourages user contribution.

So did anyone one see the word design at all? Well neither did I. There you have it, straight from the horses mouth (Tim O’Reilly), the meaning of the term Web 2.0. So please for the love of God, stop referring to it as if it were a design aesthetic. Better yet, when the next person you talk to who refers to it as a design aesthetic, please correct them or point them to the sources I have quoted above or just point them here. There is no shame in being wrong, the important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and try our best to never repeat them again.

Parting thoughts

Is there an advantage to referring to Web 2.0 as a design aesthetic? None whatsoever. The only thing that we “get” out of continuing to refer to it as a design component is to fuel the confusion even more and risking never correcting a problem thats in dire need of correction.

Finally, one last thing that has always bugged me is that no one really realizes that the big name designers are not bowing down to trends and when writing about their designs never once have they referred to it as a Web 2.0 design. This gives light to 2 questions:-

Effectively finding the answers to those 2 questions could well be your way out of this rut of “Web 2.0 design trends” to follow. Think about it. Part of being a web designer is being creative and coming up with something original and that encompasses your inner creativity and portrays the design in the same light as well. If we all followed trends, then everything would look very monotonous and nothing would stand out (which is a problem already with many sites especially those that come out from design firms that produce websites as if they were a factory producing tins only, with different labels.)


Simon said on July 03, 2009

I can’t agree more with you, ‘Web 2.0’ has become a marketing term and lost it’s true meaning and value along the way.

Web 2.0 for me was the shift in the way users actually use the web when no longer tied to a traditional web browsers. Mobility, collaborative spaces and so called ‘social networking’ are Web 2.0, they are concepts not a visual style.

Rory said on July 28, 2009

I agree, Web 2.0 is a lot more than the cosmetic stuff. But marketers being marketers – I say this as one myself – they can’t resist jumping on the bandwagon.

We wrote a bit about what Web 2.0 really is and what aspects of it really matter (at least for business-to-business sites) in our newsletter

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