John Markoff of The New York Times has announced the dawn of Web 3.0, which used to be called "the Semantic Web" and has its roots in that "World Wide" Web of the 1990s and the rapidly cooling fad called Web "2.0," which Tim O'Reilly can tell you about in exquisite detail for $375 ($395 if you want the printed version, too—why not just sell a book? Because it's a gold rush!). In lieu ofIf we get caught up about the name of the thing we're building, we're just wasting time. that, you can just wait for the beginning of the plaintive calls defending Web 2.0.
It was only a few months ago that I anticipated a coming conflict between the branding of Web 2.0 and whatever was coming next. And so it has come. Mike Arrington and others who built a business identity on Web 2.0 are going to scramble to defend or redefine their businesses so that their Web 2.0 can stretch to fit the evolving demands of the marketplace.
This is, however, merely a distraction from the real work involved in the much-needed process of change that is and always will be ongoing in a networked marketplace. It doesn't really matter what you call the current Web as long as you don't fix your brand at a given place and time and try to get the market to stop there.
My good friend Ross Mayfield responded to Markoff's piece saying there won't be a Web 3.0, which he said before: "Web 2.0 will be known as the name of a bubble. And 3.0 would only be a marketing disaster." Fellow ZD Net blogger Joe McKendrick says "Web 3.0. Ugh," and Dan Farber, who has seen as many waves of hype as Markoff, sums it up nicely: "...Web 3.0. There will be one.... It's been a focus of attention for Tim Berners-Lee, who cooked up much of what the Internet is today, for nearly a decade." In other words, there is a continuity of purpose that is progressing quite nicely, thank you.
If ever there was a "Web 2.0" paragraph, it was the preceding one. See what I did? I linked to a bunch of postings that have appeared on Techmeme to get into the discussion.
Having co-founded a company, BuzzLogic, that looks beyond the piling on of social discourse on the Web, I never thought much of the Web 2.0 trope as an end in itself, though I have used the phrase as a summary of features of products discussed in postings here along the way. The important thing to me and the mission of the company is to find influence and the shapers of ideas, identify them, what they have influence about and make the discussions more transparent.
As a journalist and blogger, I'd like to spend more time engaged with the ideas that are actually shifting beneath the surface of today's media and culture so that every word is an investment in making the world a little better rather than just a way of gaining links, undifferentiated links.
Both of these goals, for my company and my writing, of course, are exemplified by the "semantic Web," though I'd rather see us focus on the progress than what it is called. Something will come after that, so why try to stop at the visions laid out by Berners-Lee and Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson and.... well, the visions just keep coming. Hopefully, mankind won't run out of visions, ever.
Arrington, of TechCrunch, has appointed himself the guru and defender of Web 2.0, so we can only wait to see if he handles the challenge to his core branding gracefully. A couple weeks back, Arrington blew a gasket about critics, it's hard to imagine he's going to handle an attack on the Web 2.0 idea quietly. He said his publication was different, claiming an ethical limbo for himself, but for those of us who have been through a few of these generations of technology, hype and publishing, it was clear that the real change wasn't stopping at one station and staying there.
If we get caught up about the name of the thing we're building, we're just wasting time. I'll be happy just working on the Web, whatever it's called.
[Disclosure: The author is a major shareholder in BuzzLogic and serves on the advisory board of Socialtext, where Ross Mayfield is CEO.)