Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right

Brian Kelly has a good slidecast talking about exploiting the social aspects of web 2.0.  He gave a similar talk with the title ‘Web 2.0 – what if we’re wrong?’ and in Twitter I tried to argue that even if we’re wrong, we’re right, but struggled with the 140 character limit, so I’ll put my argument here.

Brian makes a good case about avoiding the Gartner Hype Curve where you have rising expectations, which are not met, and then a trough of despair (I can’t embed the actual slide direct, but it’s slide 19). He is right about this, and the possible risks. Many web 2.0 companies don’t have a sustainable business model, and there is undoubtedly some hype amongst all of this. Brian gives a good account of how these risks can be overcome without retreating from the brave new world. His angle is from IT services, but I want to broaden out his argument.

Just as with the initial dot com bubble, the fact that there is hype doesn’t mean that the overall direction isn’t correct. It may not completely change the world in the next 18 months, but it will significantly change the world in the next 5 years. Ewan McIntosh digs up a great quote from Clifford Stoll in 1995 saying (amongst much pooh-poohing of this internet stuff):

"Then there’s
cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping – just point and
click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network,
make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. So how come
my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire
Internet handles in a month?”

Few would doubt we do all of those things online now, and much more. So even if the e-commerce enthusiasts were wrong about the speed and extent of change back then, they were more right than Stoll was in dismissing it.

And that’s the case with social networking, web 2.0, user generated content, liberation of content, etc. Even if it doesn’t turn out as some enthusiasts predict there is one key point that the detractors always miss – it will never go back to how it was. After wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, iTunes, etc the idea that consumers of newspapers, books, music, television, and yes, education, will realise it was all just a silly mistake and go back to how it was may be what the industry leaders dream of, but is unlikely, to say the least.

Which brings me on to my even if we’re wrong, we’re right argument. Sure things won’t be the utopian vision of free services, open education and democratisation that some talk of, but whatever comes after the current trends will build on top of them. Just as web 2.0 built on what had happened in the first wave of web development. And the people who got it, the founders and the visionaries weren’t people who had dismissed the web and insisted it would go away. They were people who engaged with it, and could see how to take it forward. So, whatever comes after web 2.0 (don’t say web 3.0), the people best placed to understand it and adapt to it will be those who have immersed themselves in the current technological climate, and not those who have sat waiting for it to fail so they can say ‘told you so.’

6 Comments

  1. Guy says:

    Can I get back to making static dreamweaver info sites for Student Services now?

  2. Martin says:

    As long as you promise to distribute them on CDs Guy.

  3. Guy says:

    Deal! I’ll send you one in the post. You start one page one and click ‘next’ to turn the page. Built for Netscape Navigator.

  4. Tony Hirst says:

    In ’95, Stoll said: “Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping – just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?”
    which is to say, don’t forget Amara’s Law, which goes along the lines of “We tend to overestimate the short term effect of a technology and underestimate its long term effect.”

  5. Kevin McConway says:

    ‘Web 2.0 – what if we’re wrong?’ Wrong question. We *will* all be wrong about the details, and most of us will only get some of the big picture right at best. But I don’t think that matters at all. In this sort of show-and-tell, it’s the showing that’s important, not the telling. It wasn’t people *saying* that ‘cyberbusiness’ would work that made it work, any more than it was Stoll saying that it wouldn’t work. It was people seeing it and using it. (And the implication is that I should shut up.)

  6. And how can you go back, anyway, if you’re on your way through school and have no memory of it?

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