Later this week I'll be on a panel at the CRV Leadership Summit in Phoenix. The session title is "Web 2.0: The Opportunities and Challenges of the Next Generation Internet" and will be moderated by John Palfrey. The other panelists are: Mike Arrington, Esther Dyson, David Sacks, and Robert Scoble.

In order to have a meaningful discussion, we're going to have to figure out what Web 2.0 is in the first place. So I'm going to jot my thoughts here and then solicit your input. Perhaps that'll help me figure this out.

Back in 2005 Tim O'Reilly wrote What Is Web 2.0 which listed the following traits:

  1. The Web As Platform
  2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence
  3. Data is the Next Intel Inside
  4. End of the Software Release Cycle
  5. Lightweight Programming Models
  6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device
  7. Rich User Experiences

Now call me crazy, but Tim's essay did a good job of setting my expectations of what "Web 2.0" should mean. But I've seen the term applied to companies, web sites, and services that fall far beyond those boundaries. Based on popular use and abuse of the term that I've seen, here are three much broader definitions of what some people seem to think Web 2.0 means:

  1. Launched after Google AdSense
  2. Uses Ajax and/or DHTML
  3. Unclear business model, pastel colors & large fonts used

Either considered separately or together, those are pretty broad and perhaps closer to rules for a Web 2.0 drinking game. Unfortunately, they're the most specific rules I'm able to derive based on the amazingly broad set of things which have been labeled "Web 2.0" by the technology press, bloggers, and random pundits.

At first I thought the Web 2.0 Wikipedia entry was mostly a recap of Tim's essay, but then I came across this nugget:

The typical Web 2.0 design elements: the glassy buttons, 'wet-floor' effects, and big fonts. The "beta" sign represents the "perpetual beta".

So I don't feel quite as silly about my overly-broad sounding list. But that doesn't mean I like it either.

Having said all that, what do you think Web 2.0 means--or ought to mean? Or what should it mean in the context of the panel discussion?

Posted by jzawodn at April 24, 2007 04:24 PM

Reader Comments
# Sean O'Donnell said:

IMHO: 'Web 2.0' is to the Web, what 'WMDs in Iraq' were to the American people.

Think about it! =)

on April 24, 2007 05:05 PM
# Richard Crowley said:

Jeremy, you've inspired me to come up with a new and superior Web 2.0 drinking game:

on April 24, 2007 05:33 PM
# Alex said:

To me it means using the web as a platform, and using users data effectively.

However it's just a buzzword, a marketing term. Companies trying to be cool end up branding their product as Web 2.0 just to get as much attention as possible.

on April 24, 2007 05:36 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

Web 1.0 was having a critical mass of content and destinations on the web. Quasi-static force fed content. The web became important.

Web 2.0 is all about user created content and user define experiences (AJAX) and massive data bases at the user's disposal. The web became a integral part of life.

Web 3.0 (someone has to start this in this thread) I feel has to grow out of wide spread availability of APIs and the emergence of user created utilities (mash-up or whatever) that are driven by the API providers, but also hides them from mainstream view. The Yahoo!s, Google's, Amazon's, and such will fade into the background only to become just another part of the infrastructure. The ease of access to information and new services will cause people to being to think of Web 3.0 as having intelligence. The web began to emerge as its own lifeform. And you though Google was only trying to efficiently search/commoditize the information on the web - it is all about the creation of spiritual machines.

on April 24, 2007 05:45 PM
# Professor said:

Who cares about what is Web 2.0? I am more worried about where to find planet Earth 2.0, hehe... well need access to it very, very soon!

on April 24, 2007 05:57 PM
# MacLifer said:

Good post! Minor typo note - first line, the "CRV ladership summit" - thought you'd want to know.

on April 24, 2007 06:01 PM
# Marc Hedlund said:

My personal opinion is that Web 2.0 is much more like a political movement than a technical definition.

Like a political movement, some members agree with certain planks in the platform, but not others. Like a political movement, it uses the rhetoric of revolution, sometimes to great effect (e.g. the Flickr API), sometimes not. Like a political movement, sometimes the establishment will run up to the front of the people's parade, and try to take the position of leading the movement (and that often works).

And also like a political movement, I believe the outcome really matters. (The last six years have taught us that in both parts of the analogy.) People who subscribe to most or all of the planks Tim laid out in his manifesto do really change things for the web. To me, that's what matters for the term, and why I care about it. The rhetoric and the parade-leaders I could do without, as with the flag-waving (the rounded corners and drop shadows). But I do believe the platform matters.

on April 24, 2007 06:08 PM
# Charles said:

Web 2.0 is social software. It is easy to recognize by using Shirky's Law "Social software is stuff that gets spammed." Social software, once monetized, contains a built-in incentive to game the system for financial gain.

This is why I conceived of Web Zero.0, Anti-Social Software. I don't need more ways for people to network with me via the internet, I need more ways to make them leave me alone. ASS would eliminate all incentives to game the system, it recognizes that the "collective intelligence" is full of annoying junk and tries to block it from reaching the user. Subtract all the Web 2.0 crap from the Internet and you're left with the remainder, Web Zero.0, which must contain the few useful things not yet spoiled by mass commercialization.

on April 24, 2007 06:29 PM
# marc said:

Web 2.0's main tenants (according to Charlene Li of Forrester)

1. user-generated
2. open source
3. benefits from network-effect

At this point "Web 2.0" is not just the current evolution ... it's the idea that the Internet **continues** to evolve. (You don't see Ford 4.0's driving around.) I don't suspect that we'll see Web 3.0 either... Web 2.0 is just the constant evolution from a flat homepage that just displays data into platforms that allow two-way communication. (Telephone 3.0 anyone?) :P

on April 24, 2007 07:11 PM
# rod said:

How about post-2.0 is when infrastructure was commoditized? Most of the barriers to entry for online businesses disappeared between 1.0 and 2.0 - code, storage, bandwidth, etc.

on April 24, 2007 10:34 PM
# Richard Cunningham said:

Another way to look at Web 2.0 is as two major trends:
"Newer" media, such as blogs, podcasts and YouTube videos
Online services, aka SaaS or webware, such as

on April 24, 2007 10:49 PM
# Wally Punsapy said:

What's Web 2.0?

Anything that has nothing to do w/ the dot-com boom and bust. Ha ha, there is some truthiness to that.

The end of the software release cycle? Replaced by? Hmm, scary thought.

on April 24, 2007 11:24 PM
# AllAboutDeMoney said:

You missed the biggest of them all MONEY:

4. Exit strategy is to be sold to Yahoo/Google/Microsoft/News International... etc.

When News International announced they'd set aside a few billion for purchasing web interests, and Yahoo bought Flickr when it was not making money, it triggered a set me toos.

Web 1.0 was IPO mee too, ridiculous valuations were paid for by IPOs. Everytime people can see a way to make money, a new wave begins.

It was just another mee too wave:

on April 25, 2007 12:45 AM
# Dario Salvelli said:

Mmm big still for Web 3.0 ?
I think that Web 2.0 was about users interactions and very useful tool: this is possibile with open source,user-generated content. Web 3.0 was about semantic web ?

on April 25, 2007 01:30 AM
# Christopher Coulter said:
on April 25, 2007 02:06 AM
# utnapistim said:

I think Web 2.0 is the shift from the information publishers to the information receivers, by giving receivers priority in deciding what information they get and how they get it.

This starts with shifting from HTML to XML (public APIs, Web Services and so on) and CSS on the server side, to "Web Browser as a Platform" instead of a simple application, on the client side and specialized internet applications partially replacing the browser.

Sadly, it is also used as a buzzword and abused by people for marketing and other purposes.

Regarding Web 3.0 as "semantic web" or anything else, it is too early (for me) to tell at this point.

on April 25, 2007 02:42 AM
# root123 said:

Whatever the term "Web 2.0" implies, but it definitely shatter the entire web community when comes in full force.

on April 25, 2007 03:00 AM
# Adrian Lee said:

Web2.0 seems like a marketing term to me, used by people to suggest that their new website/product is newer, more up-to-date, and better.

Based on the collaborative idea of 'web 2.0', flickr is tlaked about being a web2.0 service, but what about other, older photo sharing sites? Somehow they seem not to be web2.0.

What about all the forums, newsgroups and stuff that have been around for YEARS, are they not web2.0 with all the participation they provide? Are blogs web2.0 while forums aren't? Why? the actual difference is very small, yet, blogs seems to be part of the whole web2.0 'thing'.

It seems to be more of a cultural thing, which is why I think things like AJAX, and pastel colours get used as describers.

on April 25, 2007 05:05 AM
# Ian Kennedy said:

More interesting to me is the relevance that the new participatory web will have for the average person. Silicon Valley is an exception, the challenge I see is how to bring the benefits that we see from this new web to people like my neighbor who is looking for simplicity in life, not more complexity.

on April 25, 2007 08:24 AM
# Eric said:

Web 2.0 is nothing more and nothing less than a marketing term.

"Web 1.0" was the bubble. "Web 2.0" is mostly just a way of saying "We're different from the bubble".

Whereas the term might once have had value in describing some distinct aspect of the web (dynamic vs static, ajax technology, network effects), it's been so abused by marketers that it's only really meaning is "(We want you to think this is) shiny and new!". It's like going back to the early 90's and having a discussion about what the "2000" suffix means.

on April 25, 2007 09:09 AM
# WoW!ter said:

@ Professor, it was just found the other day. Only 20 light years away.

on April 25, 2007 11:16 AM
# Ryan said:

I believe that web 2.0 is nothing more than a buzzword you use when trying to hype something up.

Reminds me of back in college, one of our test questions was "when should you use XML?" and one of the choices was "when you need a buzzword on your resume"

Web2.0 is the same thing.

It's a label that's not needed. The web is the web. Web 2.0 is a marketing effort.

on April 25, 2007 12:16 PM
# Jens Meiert said:

"Web 2.0" basically is a naf attempt to hold the Web's development for just a blink of an eye ...

on April 25, 2007 01:00 PM
# science news said:

web 2.0 thoughts - The stats very clearly show that less then 1% of web users do things like build personal profiles while 99% browse. On youtube, much less then 1% actually make and upload videos while more then 99% watch....dont drink the koolaid because nothing has changed. People basically like to watch, just like they did 70 year ago when TV first came out.

on April 25, 2007 07:33 PM
# Joseph Hunkins | Joe Duck said:

Like Soylent Green, Web 2.0 is ... people.

In keeping with the drinking game references I'd say Web 2.0 IS a big, collective, drinking game. Unlike earlier online activity web 2.0 stuff if far more democratic, more universal, more participatory, more interactive (and thus Web 2.0 is junkier, glitzier, more superficial, and FAR more profound in it's implications than earlier online-itizing.

on April 25, 2007 07:53 PM
# Ryan Roberts said:

I also feel like web 2.0 is simply a buzzword. Its use has been so over used and misused that it has become really difficult to actually tie valuable meaning to it. Now days when I see it I hear this, "We're trendy and cool, you should blog and talk about us!"

on April 26, 2007 08:30 AM
# Sean said:

Haha @ "Unclear business model, pastel colors & large fonts used"

But seriously, I think Web 2.0 is really more of a philosophical concept than a technical one. People always refer to open source, AJAX, perpetual betas, etc. as cornerstones of Web 2.0, but really there's only one common thread between things as diverse as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, and social networks:

They connect people and are driven by people.

I know I'm not the first to use the term, but I think Web 2.0 is 'The Living Web'. This includes 'old' technology like web forums, IRC, and even Usenet. They connected people and were driven by people...the original UGC in some ways!

The big difference now is ease of use and accessibility, which is enabled by new technology like XML and highly evolved Flash, but the technology really doesn't have anything to do with the core driver - the people using the technology to generate and consume content.

on April 26, 2007 10:37 AM
# Ryan said:
on April 27, 2007 11:57 PM
# Jeremy Geelan said:

Much has been made, recently, of the amorphous term "Web 2.0" and even Jeremy Zawodny, a leading blogger, is so challenged by its elasticity that he's just asked his readers "What the heck is Web 2.0 anyway?"

Zawodny's question spawned the usual selection of knee-jerk responses, but one very nearly nailed it...

on May 1, 2007 04:25 AM
# Sammy said:

Overused sans serif fonts, a leeetle bit of GUI interactivity, occasionally a clever idea and lots "we're cool 'cause" hype.

on May 8, 2007 05:22 AM
# James said:

Web 2.0 is a buzz-word for the uninitiated. It's a band-wagon word for the after-party. A term for like-minded money grubbing morons who don't think beyond the Internet. It's a big label that says, "I'm an Internet yuppie." Usually hipsters, clueless VC's, and marketing guys playing catchup from the stone-age use it the most. It's so over-used that it's simply meaningless fluff.

Nothing against Tim's original concept; but the term is far removed from its use in the context it was used in.

So many of the concepts these shucksters are pushing are hardly new. Social Internet? What... did you skip past usenet, irc, forums, mailing lists, blogs, and real life? "But I can rate articles on Digg!!" -- And now you need to re-categorize and dumb-down the big picture and create a university PhD thesis studying the social constructs around a website used by the top percentile of elitist consumers? Whatever rocks your boat...

At the end of the day, I tend to tune out anybody who seriously refers to "Web 2.0," "Social Computing," or whatever buzz-term-o-the-day is. If they believe it took Digg, Flickr,, and blogs to make the Internet a social space; they obviously missed the train. If they think that Internet applications will replace desktop applications; they clearly haven't done their homework IMO. The Internet is a large cultural and technological phenomenon with broad implications spanning decades of history. A bubbly logo, a beta sticker, some tags and ratings... do not suddenly make the boring old Internet new again.

Web 2.0 is just dressing; new words to fancy up the same old act. Back then hot new companies were called, "dot-com startups." What's the difference?

on May 8, 2007 06:27 AM
# Mark said:

What the heck is Web 2.0?

A buzzword.

Next up, Web Xtreme!

To be followed by Web X 2.0, to be followed by Web: The Next Generation, to be followed by Web: Deep Space Nine, to be followed by Web: We tried to make it something the protocols were never meant to support and now it's a wasteland of crap, bad porn sites, viruses, malicious sites, trojans, worms, and overdone MySpace pages, to be followed by Web: I'm bored, let's go do something else.

There really are some good things being done out there and some promising new approaches but for some years now, the industry has had a very, very bad habit of chasing fads.

Funniest thing about all this is with the lying the telecoms are doing about broadband penetration, vast swaths of the country can't use these souped up web sites to begin with. I'm still stuck on a modem until I get a satellite internet service put in (which is going to cost a bundle and still not deliver the cheap DSL I could get in a city) and most of these "Web 2.0" sites are *useless to me. I get really, really tired of twiddling my thumbs waiting for a site to load so it can have magic menus and dancing bears. I usually just give up.

I'm sure the bulk of /. readers have massive honking broadband pipes (or is that tubes, I should ask whatsizname in Alaska to explain) but, overall, I think the marketing twits are putting the cart before the horse.

The US is headed for third world levels of broadband penetration but the companies want to shove a billion widgets on their web pages? Even the average consumer broadband connection is going to start to suck if companies keep it up.

Remember how spam started to threaten email? People were walking away from email because the spam flood made it useless? The web is headed the same way. I'm waiting for MySpace to collapse in on itself when they reach the point of having such dense pages even consumer broadband lines are reduced to modem like page load times.

Without real broadband competition (which the RBOCs have killed) and a serious push to get major bandwidth even out in the more "rural" areas, the more you try to push down the, heh, intertubes, the fewer people will find it useful.

In short, I should go trademark Web 3.0. Or 4.0 or whatever else I can think of. Seems the real way to make money in this industry now is sue people. As in how much did the Blackberry people have to pay out to the company whose patents were on the verge of being ruled invalid by the USPTO?

on May 8, 2007 11:57 AM
# Eric Huggins said:

Web 2.0 is a media term used to try and categorize what exactly it is that makes a YouTube, LinkedIn, or GoogleMaps explode across the Internet. The exact formula is just amorphous enough to be somewhat like trying to "guess" the recipe for Coca-Cola. You can be close, but is close good enough?

The question of relevance is neither moot, nor merely "marketing" - at least for me - but is instead an indication that a few influential groups have discovered a way to integrate disparate technologies to achieve a Tipping Point through the use of disruptive technologies; changing market segments in either unseen ways or dramatically accelerated existing trends. Disruptive technologies capable of impacting broad market segments from comparably no where is not something to be ignored, especially when the same "type" solutions have similar impacts in broadly different market segments.

What it is exactly that creates the Tipping Point seems to be the question most often answered with the insertion of "Social" - but also seems to be the magic element whose impact is not truly understood. This is likely because Tipping Points are products of group dynamics influenced by the technologies and times in which they occur.

Would Elvis or the Beatles have had the same impact without Television, Movies, Amplifiers, or the Draft?

Would Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead have been as broadly accepted without broadly available radio, drugs, and political conflict?

Would the iPod be a $1B sell without prior CD digitization, relatively inexpensive compact storage, and broadly available broad-band Internet?

Web 2.0 and SoC are both terms used to at least pin a common term on multiple instances of disruptive technologies impacting broad market segments through methods that are not quite understood. Perhaps this generations Sex, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll.

on May 8, 2007 09:05 PM
# mkl said:

Web2.o - a layer of tools for social interactions merged into core business: be it traffic, data class, or any service.

on May 9, 2007 06:32 AM
# James said:

@Eric Huggins:

"Disruptive" is about as amorphous as the the term "Web 2.0" -- what constitutes disruptive on the Internet has impacted less than 0.1% of the world's population. I'm pretty sure the Beatles and Elvis had a much large "disruptive" impact on the world by such a measure.

Broad social implications? Hardly. Well... okay, maybe for the upper-percentile elite in the world. That's something, sure, but it's not revolutionary by any means. Anything more than what it is is simply a marketing ploy to inflate egos. It's "fluff" speak.

It is merely marketing as you've so cleverly made your case using marketing prose. Words like, "market segments" and "impact" are typical marketing-speak. If we're talking socio-economics; tell me how any of this Web 2.0 stuff has changed any of the social or economic fabrics of the world? Are the 6.5 billion people in the world in rapture at the enormous benefits that Flickr or Facebook have brought to their lives?

As for the Internet at large, itself IS a social structure. Nothing has changed except for the number of people talking about it. And if history has anything to say -- never underestimate the sheer stupidity of people in large numbers. I'm certainly no authority, but I still do not understand what 'Web 2.0' is, what makes it so special or revolutionary, or how it changes anything... but if I am to venture a guess from your opening paragraph; I suppose I never will.

on May 11, 2007 02:44 PM
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