Glass of water

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I like Doc Searls, even when I’m not agreeing with him, and this is one of those times. Nat over at O’Reilly posted an email Doc wrote to him in response to Nat’s seeking to better understand Web 2.0. Doc responded by describing three specific types of morality–self-serving, accounting, and generosity–stating that he believes Web 2.0 is business based on generous morality:

I think some of what we see in Web 2.0 … is the morality of generosity. At eTech, I saw a preview of a browser-based Photoshop/Album organizing/print product front-end service. The biggest thing the creator wanted to show was how generous Flickr is. “Watch this,” he said, before using Flickr’s API to suck all 6000+ of my photos from Flickr into his product. All the metadata, all the tags and associations, were intact. His point: Flickr isn’t a silo. Their closed and proprietary stuff doesn’t extend, not is it used, to lock up customer or user data. It’s wide open. Free-range. Most of all, however, it is a “good citizen”. It is generous where it counts. Nurturing.

What Flickr has done, aside from generating a plethora of 2.0 wannabes who think all they have to do is drop the final ‘e’ to succeed, is follow good business practices. Among these is don’t lock in your customer’s data, or you’ll have problems: getting new customers, and keeping old customers happy. By providing an API the company has forestalled all the bitching about ‘lock in’ that would happen–guaranteed–if they didn’t provide the API.

In addition, the API has led to all sorts of tools and toys that generate buzz for the organization and the services–all at the cost of bandwidth absorbed by a company where the use of such probably doesn’t even rate a blip in the overall consumption of this resource.

None of this is ‘generosity’; this is all good business sense.

I’m not being critical of Flickr or the folks behind Flickr. I’ve always thought that Stewart and Catarina are the most intelligent and savvy of the “2.0″ entrepreneurs. They both possess what I think is essential for business people: a sense of humor, and a sense of perspective. No, Flickr isn’t ‘generous’, because this is a concept that doesn’t apply to businesses. Generosity applies to people–not companies. Anthropomorphizing companies just leads to angry and pissed off users when the company does what companies do–make decisions that may not be universally popular, but are sound from a business perspective.

(As evidenced by the recent Terms of Use change at Flickr, whereby photos displaying full frontal nudity would be filtered from the photo stream–a move that has pissed off many Flickr users. I happen to think that Flickr made a sound business decision to filter nudity from the public photo stream.)

No, there’s few things I would disagree with more than what Doc had to say about the 2.0 companies…

Unless it was Tim O’Reilly, who wrote in comments to Nat’s post:

I have to say that while I don’t necessarily disagree with Doc’s thoughts about types of morality (though it’s hard to avoid characterizing as oversimplification a system that finds only three bases for morality!), I find the idea that Web 2.0 is about a different kind of morality to completely miss the point.

It’s ultimately about the internet as platform.

Tim is the publisher of the book I’m currently writing, so I don’t necessarily want to kick the ass of the man who signs my checks. Still, if we think we’re tired of the “Web 2.0″ term, I can guarantee by the end of the year, we’ll be even more sick of “____ as operating system”, or “Internet as platform”.

As for Web 2.0…there is no Web 2.0. There is only the same Web we’ve had all along. The only reason for the “Web 2.0″ phrase is that people wanted to distance themselves from the perceived ‘failures’ of the Dot-Com era. You know that old Web 1.0, where people were stupid, unlike the Web 2.0 folks, who are smart.

The thing is, the old Web 1.0 was, is, very successful. Look at how much we do online now? I have met and become friends–real friendships–with people from all around the world. I do most of my shopping online; you can see my photos, hear my stories, use my tech. I can download music and read books for free online. I can access my library to check out books, and work on a project with a team in the UK. You’re reading what I’m writing here, now, because of that ‘old’ Web.

I have changed my mind politically because of what people have written. I’ve had my interests broadened because of what I’ve been exposed to through my online interactions. I am a different person because of that ‘old’ Web. Contrary to being a failure, that ‘old’ Web is marvelously successful.

Sure there were a lot of Dot-Com companies that went belly up, but this wasn’t the Web’s fault. It had nothing to do with the technology, and everything to do with bad economics. When this current version of The Web falters and most likely fails, it will be for the same reason.

The Web, though, will continue. Despite the rise and fall of personal and corporate fortunes, government censorship, and even page rank and popularity lists, the Web will continue. And so will the behaviors of the people at the ends of the Web. Thus we will continue to see the same gamut of human behaviors–from brilliance to stupidity, tolerance to bigotry, and greed to generosity–that we’ve always seen when people interact with each other.

People make me laugh. People make me think. People make me sigh over beauty. Some have even made me sad. Of course, being Burningbird, people have also pissed me off. But the web didn’t cause any of this–it just widened the pool of people with whom I interact. Now there are more people to make me laugh and piss me off. Huzzah!

There is no version of the Web, and it is no more a platform now then it ever was. Or perhaps, no less a platform then it ever was. There is also no inherent generosity in the organizations doing business on the Web. There are just people doing business, and there is just the Web.

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