Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

shaming "Web 2.0" into utility

So this morning I was looking at the website for the "Web 2.0" conference that ORA puts on. The speaker list looks great, the registration is booked full, and I'm sure it'll be blogged to death. Another smashing success.

But then I noticed this quote in eye-catching green text at the top of the page:

Web 1.0 was making the Internet for people, Web 2.0 is making the Internet better for computers -- Jeff Bezos

The rotation of supposedly incisive quotes from people who are most notable for being..erm..notable seems like an apt metaphor for what "Web2.0" really is: unspecified. That they rotate is the most fitting thing about them.

Now, I don't know anything about Mr. Bezos' programming or HCI acumen, but it would seem to this developer that if Web2.0 is indeed about making things better for computers, then we're all (collectively) f'd. If that's the goal, I want off the train. Perhaps the quote is out of context, but nevertheless it outlines one of my biggest fears with fads like tagging and overloading of RSS for any-and every-thing, which is that we are now celebrating the failure of systems to make user's lives better as the indomitable march of progress.

Lets take tagging for example. Tagging is the pet rock of such "Web2.0" companies as Technorati and Flickr. With Flickr, it's almost excusable since the problem of creating relationships between images requires both more space as well as some sort of synthesis into a format that is more easily handled (i.e., text). But then why provide stricter organizational tools as well? Is it unstructured or structured? And if structured, why can't the metadata be mined to remove the burden to users without fobbing the work onto them?

And what's Technoratis excuse? That other things support tagging and therefore they use it? Sorry, but that's just sloth. I already typed in my search term. Isn't it a search engine's job to synthesize context out of raw data? If so, why are we then jumping up and down about something that lets us, the users, do the job of a search engine for it? Color me unimpressed.

And it's just one example of where real improvement (REST web services APIs, machine learning) are being conflated with ideas with marginal end-user utility (microformats and tagging) as somehow being ambassadors for "Web2.0".

We should have learned something from Web1.0. We should have a higher bar for allowing memes into the party this go 'round.