Web 2.0 just like Web 1.0 before we got clever

I’ve been reading some of the articles associated with Web 2.0 (Jeremy Zawodny has several dumps of these) , and I’m not sure that I’m particularly impressed with what I’m seeing. The consensus seems to be that Web 2.0 is really about lightweight services and open source functionality, but we had that at the very beginning of Web 1.0, before a bunch of people got clever.

Ten years ago the web was new and lightweight. A year or so after it was born, the web got a little heavier with CGI and business use, but still managed nicely. Then about six years ago, thanks to Microsoft and Sun, and IBM to some extent, the web ballooned out into these fat infrastructures and architectures like J2EE and ASP.Net and using bloated technology like Web Sphere.

I agree that these fat technologies are the work of people who were being clever and perhaps a bit greedy, but not very smart. And I am ashamed to admit I helped these efforts with my own, starry eyed participation. But I is all growed up now.

I now look back on the use of application servers in the companies I worked in and in all cases – all of them – there wasn’t a company or organization that needed an application server. None of them had the performance issues. It was more a matter of ego than anything else…

Hey, we’re going to be big! We have to think big! Bigger is better! And to scale we have to have all this iron just to make it work. Because we’re going to be big!

I can agree that we’re now learning that we can probably rip out the application servers from 95% of the companies that used them and replace them with something simple and lightweight and most likely open source and the companies would thrive and the applications would thrive and it sure would be easier to find people to work on the apps.

But we’re doing the same thing thing again – being clever rather than smart– with the concepts of podcasting and platforms, and the newest batch of ‘look at us, we is inventing now’. God, we just don’t want to let the glory of the dot-com go, do we? Well, I can understand why, and it’s not just about money: it’s about capturing that feeling of positive energy. Damn, those were glorious days.

Edd Dumbill writes about what is hot and not in the new Web 2.0, saying that what’s hot are intellectual property issues, transformations and data integration, and network engineering; what’s not hot are complicated web service and frameworks. I can agree, 100%. But what’s hot or not isn’t a matter of technology for technology’s sake, as much as it is our interacting with technology. Rather than huge applications and passive users, we’re looking more at a partnership with the technology, each providing 50% of the work. That’s a goodness…but it isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t turn heads.

We’re also looking at more than just a partnership between tech and people –we have to start finding some common ground with each other beyond just our accidental connection through the wires. For instance, Intellectual property law is spread out too thin between the extremes of those that believe that everything should be contained and copyrighted and controlled and those who think that everything should be free. How can we can work towards a solution that will please everyone when there isn’t any level of compromise among the participants in the discussion? There are a hell of a lot of cultural issues to work through before copyright can be effectively addressed, and the cultural shift has to occur on both sides of this fence.

I gather that Cory Doctorow believes if we just let EFF deal with all of these issues they would all go away. That we should have never let Intel et al determine what the tech industry wants. But what makes him think EFF would do any better? Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Fractionalized effort at least brings in its own checks and balances. At this time, we need many efforts on many fronts – centralized efforts led to problems in the past that we don’t need to duplicate.

(I’ve dealt with the zealots in the open at all costs camp, and there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I would say, “Oh sure, you go ahead and be my voice.” )

As for transforms and data integration, well this is one I do particularly like and hope that we’ll see more of. That’s the whole reason I tied on to RDF and OWL; it certainly wasn’t because I found the specs to be fascinating late night reading. We don’t annotate our material on the web nearly as much as we could, and if we did, we could do some amazing stuff.

Still, having a means and a method won’t help with transformations if the different business entities don’t agree on the data models underlying the business. We had EDI and other data transform and integration efforts years before the Web happened, and the problems we found weren’t so much in the technology as it was to get people to agree on what represents a basic data model of a business.

So I create a vocabulary for poetry and you create one, and they don’t agree. How do we work these through? Most used vocabulary wins? But what if the most used isn’t the best? What if the most used was supported by a bigger name than the better vocabulary? What technology helps to correct for the buzz effect? This is going to be the killer issue of the next decade: how do we support standardizations on, and promotion of, the ‘good’ data models?

But I’m not the only one to see that this issue is more one of the people than the tech. As Edd Dumbill writes in his essay:

There’s also another lesson I’d like to draw, which is about where people who believe in the fundamentally decentralized and open nature of the web should put our attention. We ought to be careful not to be seduced by the new platforms of the web. We fought long and hard not to have the web become Microsoft Internet Explorer, and we should fight equally hard not have it become Google. In the first wars, our weapons were the HTML and CSS standards, in the latter, they may well turn out to be the vocabularies and ideas of the semantic web.

I’ve no idea what the people at the Web 2.0 conference are talking about, but this is my notion of what the next web is: more of the same. The real shift isn’t in the web, but in the businesspeople’s perception of it.

Absolutely right on. But then Edd wasn’t at the conference, and neither was I, and neither, most likely, were you. So much for Web 2.0.

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