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The Life and Death of “Web 2.

0”
By Adam S. Bellow

An Abridged History of “Web 2.0”

The term “Web 2.0” was first coined in 1999. That is more than ten years
ago. A whole lot has happened in those ten years. For instance we were
introduced to a little web company named Google. Although founded in
1996, Google didn’t really become a major player on the scene until 1999.
It feels like a technological lifetime ago. And in technology terms it is.

1999 Google Screenshot 2010 Google Screenshot


To think of it another way – the term was coined before the first iPod.
However, to be fair, while that was the first time the term was kicked
around, it didn’t really take on the common meaning or gain popularity
until around 2003-04. And to put 2003 in perspective for you, the “newly
redesigned and cutting edge iPod” looked like this…

iPod 2003 iPod Touch 2009

“Web 2.0” became a label one put on a website that was, as Tim O’Reilly
so famously stated, “a web application that facilitates interactive
information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and
collaboration on the World Wide Web”.

At the time, the term meant something because the predominant


number of websites simply informed. Company web pages and basic
information tools, such as dictionaries and encyclopedia reference sites,
provided users data and static information that offered no interaction
(social or otherwise). These non-interactive sites were all instantly
downgraded to the moniker “Web 1.0”.

“Web 2.0” was sexy. “Web 2.0” was cool. It was a new buzz-word. A
catch phrase. And, unfortunately, it still seems to be lingering with us
today. The “2.0” signified that there was a distinct and definable
difference from what came before it.

That’s fine. Initially this idea makes sense. For a few months or even a
year we can have a shiny new name to define a changing medium.
Perhaps you might remember “Coke II” or “New Coke”.
Coke II New Coke

1985 1986

These were names added to the bubbly-beverage to try and define a


slightly different taste. Why did the company go back to “Coke”?
Because “II” and “New” added nothing of value to the product and after
the marketing buzz wore off, the names confused the consumer. Adding
numbers or meaningless adjectives do nothing but call attention for a
short period of time. In the end it was still the same old soda. The name
may have been intended to define a new taste due to a switch of an
ingredient or two, but in the end it was still a sugary carbonated
beverage.

The same is true of the term “Web 2.0”. Today’s web is almost entirely
interactive or social in some way. Why continue to use a term that
distinguishes itself from the predecessor if the predecessor no longer
needs to be differentiated from? Even most of the static sites from years
ago now offer and allow a level of social interaction. I can tweet
definitions from the dictionary, comment on or even add information to
encyclopedia entries, and buy custom designed shoes from companies.
That is true of almost all the sites out there these days. At the very least
you can add comments or share content on almost any site. And those
are the most basic examples. The fact is that when I think of all the sites I
use on daily basis (and there are a ton of them) they are all “Web 2.0”
sites. But really, what isn’t these days? I simply have grown sick of the
meaningless term and simply refer to it as “The Web”.

However, The Web has evolved. It’s that simple. We gave a name to our
ancestors that described them, “Cave-People”. That is a term that is
definable and clear. It paints a literal picture and simply explains what
made them different from us. We evolved as well, but I don’t see anyone
referring to ourselves as “People 2.0” or “Society 4.0”. Why not? I would
say that we have gone though some pretty major changes in the past
several thousand years. We live in houses, drive cars, use computers, and
look and function in a rather different way. And yet, we simply refer to
ourselves as People. When history is written about our lives we may come
to be known as the “People of the Early Digital Information Age” or
something else that described us and what significance our society had.

The Web is the same way. It has merely evolved. The medium is still very
much the same, but the use has changed and that is one of the reasons
why giving it a number to designate it as different is meaningless as it
doesn’t explain or clarify the change or difference.

Well, we have to call it something…

If that is true and you are of the mind that we need to call the current
iteration of The Web something different from what has come before, let
me make my suggestion. I think it is one that makes sense and I hope you
would agree.

But before that, I would like to protest the term “Web 3.0” for several
reasons.

1) The Web has grown in size, scope, and functionality at an


exponential rate and will likely continue to do so. It is almost a
certainty that what comes next will be superseded by “the next big
thing” in a few short years. If that is true and we go along with a
number method to name the advances of The Web, following the
notion that we will continue to re-name it every seven years, when I
turn 80 we will presumably be using the term “Web 9.0”. That’s just
plain silly.

2) We no longer need to distinguish from the static websites because


there are so few of them in use. Adding a “3.0” to the term web
signifies an evolution or the next version of that thing. In reality the
sites which the name is currently being used to describe are just
different ideologically, not a fundamental shift in terms of their use
that had been the case with “Web 2.0”. When the term “Web 2.0”
was coined there were a hundred or so sites allowing the level of
sharing or interaction on the web that earned the title. The term is
now used to describe literally thousands of websites that are in
some cases as different as night and day. Using a term to label
them that is as vague as “Web 2.0” does little to explain what the
tool is.
Webtool.

Simple. Clear. It explains what the website is. It is a tool. Tools, by


definition allow you to create and/or build. Tools allow us to do things –
usually things that we couldn’t do before or at least couldn’t do as well
before. The term Social Web is already well established and fits perfectly
in the sense that it allows people to communicate and interact in a social
manner using a website. If the website provides a collaborative or social
experience but also functions as a tool… You guessed it; I would therefore
consider it a “Social Webtool”.

Having spent the last three years studying, collecting, and writing about
Webtools for my own site, www.eduTecher.net, I have seen The Web grow
in complexity and shift as part of its seemingly natural evolution. Naturally,
The Web will continue to evolve and be driven by new technologies and
what content developers and end users are able to deliver using them.
Simply placing all the new content under an umbrella term as empty as
“Web 2.0” makes it difficult for people to discern what that purpose of a
site is.

The term Webtool is just a step in more clearly defining the modern web.
The term is admittedly still vague, but can be appended to more clearly
and appropriately explain what a website’s purpose is as stated above
with the example of a Social Webtool. A site that allows for multiple users
to collaborate on projects, such as Google Docs, could be called a
Collaborative Webtool.

The key is perhaps to see The Web as not something that exists in a finite
time where we need to draw a dividing line and say that here is the new
and there is the old. It is alive and morphing and changing every moment
with new ideas and new visions for what can and will be done for and by
the users. The “modern web” is only modern for the moment – or the
other way of thinking of this is that it is always modern. Trying to come up
with a name for every small shift or iteration is an exercise in futility.
However, if we insist on distinguishing from one type of site to another I
certainly hope it will be with a term that has some meaning and can
explain how this particular website differs from another type or site.

You Are Cordially Invited…

I will be holding a memorial service for the term “Web 2.0” at the 2010 ISTE
(International Society of Technology in Education) Conference as part of
my session on eduTecher’s 10 Webtools To Make Learning Matter. If you
are going to be in Denver please feel free to attend. The funeral will be
held Tuesday, June 29th at 11:00. Hope to see you there as we bury the
term once and for all.

Adam S. Bellow

www.eduTecher.net