As our economy sours, more and more nervous technologists are writing off Web 2.0 as dead. We believe web 2.0 (whatever it really means) isn’t on the decline, the economy is. The web is evolving. In fact, there’s no sign it will ever stop.
There are plenty of reasons to cast fingers upwards and claim the sky looks a lot closer than it did yesterday. The economy is in big trouble. An unprecedented $700 billion bailout by the government failed to quell a stock market crash. Those scarred by the dot-com crash of 2001 and 2002 are starting to see the signs of another bubble popping.
- Om Malik refers to Web 2.0 as an age of naiveté culminating in the end of innocence.
- Publishing magnate Tim O’Reilly makes the argument in a Los Angeles Times interview that it’s time for developers to get serious and stop making frivolous widgets and sheep-throwing applications.
- Michael Arrington at Techcrunch is eagerly making the case for Web 2.0′s failure (and good riddance), as evidenced by financial budget cutting by angel investors.
- For a hard dose of cynicism, take in the trash-talking site Uncov. The recently resurrected site gleefully shovels dirt on Web 2.0′s stupidity.
- According to Spokeo founder Harrison Tang, its ad revenue wasn’t supporting the site. For Tang, it was enough evidence to officially declare the era of Web 2.0 over.
Business Week’s Rob Hof, on the other hand, takes a more modest approach. He argues the ideas and momentum of Web 2.0 continues and pundits’ words should be supplemented with a dose of skepticism.
We are inclined to agree with Hof’s take. Granted, we’ll all be able to track the tightening of purse strings as the economy continues its recession. However, carefully tailored from the lessons of 2001 and 2002, Silicon Valley is more prepared than ever for economic downturn. Ever since the bubble burst in 2001, every startup’s economic volatility has been built into Web 2.0′s culture. “You’ll never know when the next bubble will burst” was the underlying worry to keep every new startup honest.
Just because a social network or video site may not make it through a recession doesn’t mean the end to Ajax, APIs, widgets and the continuing design theories of big buttons, graphs, tabbed menus and large text. New APIs and standards will continue to be developed. People will continue to buy sheep-throwing applications and stupid viral messaging widgets for fun. We fail to see how a widget developer will stop making profitable but trifling apps in order to “get serious.”
But, we continue to see an era of advancement through social experiments and feature innovation, zombie apps and all.
Perhaps nothing was as jolting to the opportunistic idealism of the late ’90s as the dot-com bomb. Today, we are seeing some very similar symptoms and can foresee some serious challenges in the recession-burdened future. Here are some of the web’s challenges we can look forward to, regardless of which version we’re on:
The Decline of Social Networks
Social networks are fun and a great way to build a small community in what would normally be a fairly large and disconnected network called the internet. Social networks made the internet smaller for people, but the question of what value is added by social networks is one that we cannot yet answer. Making money has always been a problem for these sites, and social networks are the trendiest things on the internet. One day you’re MySpace, the next you’re Facebook. Unless social networks learn to monetize and compete with the thousands of new sites popping up every day, social networks may be the first to feel the pinch.
The End of Cartoony Logos
The cartoony logo. It’s the mainstay of the Web 2.0 design lexicon. However, some will argue cartoony is too hard to take seriously. It projects an image that doesn’t grow well with a serious company. Even Jeff Veen, a former Google employee, discounted the Google logo as “ugly” and “childish.” There are new and innovative ways to visualize information, and Veen takes an interest in following those trends. However, in many ways, design tastes change as often as music trends. It is difficult to make an argument how web design trends are direct reflections of the economic atmosphere.
The Decline of Web 1.0 Companies Yahoo and Ebay
Ebay was one of the first companies to start laying off people in 2008. The site’s decreasing traffic and sales show a decline of one of the stalwarts of Web 1.0. And despite some promising new technological strategies coming out of Yahoo, like its open application platform and the geo-aware Fire Eagle service, the economic situation in Sunnyvale seems to be going more red than purple.
The Decline of the Ad-Supported Free Technology Model
We don’t buy the prophecy that the ad-supported application model will soon end. We’re all very lucky much of Web 2.0 was funded by the enlarged wallet of ads, itself a construct of technology we can thank Web 2.0 applications like Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing for.
Sorry, just because your website doesn’t make enough money off of an ad-revenue model doesn’t mean the theory itself is flawed. Some web applications, mostly sites with content, are just better equipped to use this model than others. The ad-based model probably wouldn’t work as a sole source of revenue for your local YMCA. Why would it work for your social network?
What Web Infinity Looks Like
Perhaps the general malaise around Web 2.0 isn’t due to the withering of the concepts behind it, but rather the term itself. In fact, maybe proclaiming its death reflects a way to wipe the slate clean of the overwhelming bad news over the past few months.
The web has never ceased to be an exciting innovative place for business and technology. Even if certain elements of web 2.0 get old, this industry has a resilience and will buckle down and weather the storm to make the case for innovation far into the future. Sure, the industry will tighten its belt and we’ll see people claiming a web 3.0, 4.0, etc… Luckily for all of us, web technology is still in its infancy, and perhaps it will always be this way.
What do you think. Is Web 2.0 over? State your opinion in comments