Are We Ready for Web 2.0?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the latest browser craze known as Flock. I call it a craze, and really it is just that; the hype for this browser came when it was announced and long before there was any code or builds to view. It seems that this kind of hype occurs all too often these days, and I even find myself wrapped up in it occasionally. And why not? It feels good to know that the industry wheels are churning again, that there’s money in the air – or, at least, the hint of it, anyway.

But is there anything to this hype? Is there anything to Flock, to Web 2.0, to AJAX, to blogging, podcasting, tagging? Truthfully, I think the jury’s still out on this. Indeed, beyond the nifty buzzword, I see what Web 2.0 promises. It represents a mounting paradigm shift in the way we view and treat information…but I think it’s way ahead of its time.

Web 2.0, as I understand it, not only embodies the Web as a platform, but it philosophically seems to represent an opening up of information and the free share and exchange of ideas. This almost smacks of Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic vision of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m not sure that we’re culturally ready for such an open—some might say “Socialistic”—approach to information.

The governments of our world are undergoing tremendous growing pains at this point in history with regard to information and intellectual property. On the one hand, we see the traditionalists and the corporations who wish to maintain a firm grasp on IP, copyright, and patents. Why shouldn’t they? These modes of protection have brought them to where they are and have made them very profitable. On the other hand are the neo-copyrightists who philosophically advocate for open information and free exchange of ideas. In the middle is a government trying to appease both sides, but, more often than not, the traditionalists have the money and, thus, the power of influence.

Can the ideals of Web 2.0 survive in this environment? I think the technology is definitely there. We can create extremely usable Web sites for the masses, and more and more, people are buying computers primarily for the business of being online – and not because of software. Indeed, the software is now online for many things, and the computer is a client to reach it. Yet, therein lies the problem: information is everywhere. Technology is forcing us to rethink our traditional approaches to information and IP. Traditionally, he who holds the information wields the most power and control. With Web 2.0, everyone collectively holds the information.

So, I followed along that lengthy tangent to come back to this: is Web 2.0 just early 21st century marketing hype, and is Flock simply riding the craze? Or could Web 2.0 represent a growing shift in cultural values – on a global scale?

There’s no doubt that Flock, at this point, is merely riding the Web 2.0 wave. After all, it’s really just Firefox with some added features that don’t particularly impress me. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it as it moves beyond the “Developer Preview” stages into alpha and beta versions.

As for Web 2.0, only time will tell whether it represents real social change or just good marketing.

For more on Flock, read Jim Rapoza’s “Flock Can’t Fly Yet” blog post.