Time for Web 2.0 to get real

Suddenly, Web 2.0 has to start offering the characteristics that Main St expects: reliability, accountability, consistency.

Fellow ZDNet blogger Tom Foremski was outraged this week when he couldn't access his Gmail account:

"I use Gmail exclusively and my business depends on it. I don't mind a five or ten minute outage, occasionally, but this is ridiculous. Google risks losing me and plenty of others as users."

Yahoo users were similarly frustrated by an outage of email and instant message services on Tuesday and Wednesday.

What Tom and many others discovered to their cost was a fundamental flaw in the Web 2.0 era: a complete disregard for accountability to their users among service providers.

This phenomenon is nothing new. An article I commissioned from my Loosely Coupled colleague David Longworth in October 2004 reported on Web services without warranties. Here's what Amazon.com's Jeff Barr had to say about service level guarantees back then:

"We have not found it necessary to offer any kind of formal guarantee in this regard. What works best is to realize that our interests are aligned with the interests of our developers — if the service is not running then their sites are not running, and no transactions are occurring. Clearly, this is bad, and we do all that we can to make sure that it doesn't happen."

In other words, 'If you're down, we're down, so trust us to stay up — after all, if you can't trust Amazon, who can you trust?' As I pointed out at the time in a blog posting entitled Rips in the Web 2.0 fabric, such breathtaking arrogance is characteristic of a vendor in the grip of what Geoffrey Moore called 'the tornado'. We all know where this kind of thing leads, as I wrote back then:

"Sure, there are going to be a lot of headaches when everyone has standardized on Web 2.0 services in a decade's time. Gartner will come out with a damning report on the unrecognized TCO of on-demand services, and Jeff Bezos will suddenly launch a "Trustworthy Services" initiative in response to corporate concerns over alleged performance glitches. But by then it will be far too late for anyone to back out and revert to the way things were before. Web 2.0 will already have arrived on Main St."

Trouble is, now that Web 2.0 has reached Main St and Tom Foremski along with a host of other individuals and businesses have started relying on what it offers, then suddenly it has to start offering the characteristics that Main St expects: reliability, accountability, consistency. Salesforce.com has already had to bow to the demands this engenders. Soon Google, Yahoo and the rest will similarly have to unpeel their 'beta' stickers and start delivering robust, trustworthy services — who knows, maybe even charge for them, too.

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