What is Web 2.0 Anyway?

    April 25, 2007

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?