Bill Thompson's essay on The Register warns that "Web 2.0 marks the dictatorship of the presentation layer, a triumph of appearance over architecture that any good computer scientist should immediately dismiss as unsustainable."
He goes on to imply that the the fate of the Internet hangs in the balance, heading down the wrong path, toward the dark side led by people like Web 2.0 pied piper and conference host Tim O'Reilly. Instead of making applications work better on the Net and trying to make a fortune with little chance of success, engineers and entrepreneurs should be focused on creating the distributed, scalable Web, not bound by walled gardens, vendor tricks or half-baked protocols,Thompson says:
Now we must decide whether to put our faith in Ajaxified snakeoil or to look beyond the interface to distributed systems, scalable solutions and a network architecture that will support the needs and aspirations of the next five billion users.
The choice may seem obvious, but the pull towards the dark side is powerful.
He sounds like a geek and socialist with the right idea who has over-engineered his argument, connecting the dots between socio-political history and the Web. Certainly you can find the parallels in the evolution of the Web--it permeates every part of life--but comparing Tim O'Reilly to Marshall Tito, walking a fine line between dictatorship and tyranny and freedom and democracy, is an academic exercise taken to an extreme. Thompson writes:
Fortunately, O’Reilly seems less of a psychopath than Mao or Stalin, and is perhaps closer to the pragmatic Yugoslavian leader Marshal Tito, who carefully steered a path between the USSR and the West for decades.
O’Reilly has already announced that Web 2.0 is really about business opportunities and new markets rather the emerging collective intelligence of humanity he preached from the barricades last year, so perhaps he will have the sense to move his followers away from Ajax towards something grounded in decent engineering.
If we can unlearn the lessons of the old Web and transcend its stateless protocols to achieve real distributed processing over a managed, trustworthy network then the possibilities truly are remarkable.
O'Reilly is no more like Marshall Tito than Mickey Mouse is a real mouse. Web 2.0 is certainly full of hype, and we are tired of it, but users aren't complaining that the Internet is worse for the features associated with the moniker. The Web is a growing, living, breathing, evolving, complex entity that is radically changing culture and society, but Web 2.0 is not Darth Vader.
Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, etc.--whatever box a set of technologies is placed in that feel significant enough to feel like a movement, something short of a perfect storm--and a scalable, vendor, processor and platform agnostic Web with unfettered message passing between distributed objects are not in opposition.
Thompson's notion of a truly distributed, global Web is shared by many, both idealists and pragmatists. The idealists, like Thompson, can see a conspiracy of Web 2.0 fanatics, and the pragmatics are less aggressive than they should be in championing an Internet less shackled by walled gardens, governments and greed.
In the end, Thompson stimulated some conversation, which is good. He finishes his essay with the more controversial notion of putting "our heads into the screen, be part of the metaverse, enter cyberspace and interact fully and equally with agents, people, sims and any other machine- or human-generated intelligence."
He concludes that the aforementioned metaverse won't happen if the "Web 2.0 fantasy" is followed. That statement is in itself is a fantasy. A little focus on the presentation layer isn't holding up the march to the metaverse. A few more cranks of Moore's Law and the natural evolution of the Internet will be enough to overcome any 'damage' done by Web 2.0.