Does Web 2.0 Need a New Term?

The term “Web 2.0” is the marketing brainchild of O’Reilly Media. Yet, it has come to be associated with so many different facets of this new culture of the Internet we see emerging. I, like Ivo Jansch, believe that Web 2.0 is now more about a cultural shift than the technology used. It’s about the way we handle data and communicate with others. It’s about sharing ideas in an open forum. It’s about who holds the knowledge and, thus, the power – in a Web 2.0 world, everyone has free and open access to the knowledge; everyone has the power.

However, O’Reilly Media, while I have nothing against them, has made it clear that they wish to own the rights to the term “Web 2.0” (specifically with regard to its use in conference names). In this world of open data exchange and sharing, the term for this phenomenon is anything but. Tom Raftery reports that CMP Media (working with O’Reilly Media) has applied for registration of “Web 2.0” as a service mark “for arranging and conducting live events.”

Now, this doesn’t restrict me from creating a Web site and calling it a Web 2.0 site, nor does it keep me from blogging about Web 2.0. In the purest sense, this means that I cannot create a conference and use the term “Web 2.0” in the name or on any of the marketing materials for the conference. However, it does raise some concerns and begs the question: what is “Web 2.0” really about? Is it about technology, a cultural shift, or marketing hype?

If the term is merely marketing hype, then we need to abandon the term and seek a new one that is free and open for everyone to use. Yet, before we create a new term, we need to clearly define what the term means – is it about technology or a shift in our way of thinking?

Let me end by saying that I have not lost any respect for O’Reilly. I think it is absurd to expect a company not to protect a term they created and own. Furthermore, it is not ridiculous to think that someone would try to trademark the terms “Ajax” or “Ruby on Rails.” After all, these were terms created by companies – Adaptive Path and 37 Signals, respectively. They had the right to trademark these terms and have chosen not to do so. The confusion lies in the ownership of the term itself. Until now, the community has assumed that the term “Web 2.0” was sparked from a grassroots effort, that it belonged to the masses. Now, we know and understand that it was merely created to name a conference where next-generation Internet technologies would be discussed. Instead, it is the community’s own fault for grasping ahold of the term and running with it as if it were their own.

So, I’m posing this question: what are we trying to describe, and what should we call it? And, let’s not suggest things like “Web 2.1” as some have humorously done. Let’s create a real term, a descriptive one.

UPDATE: O’Reilly Media posted a response to the service mark issues a few days ago on O’Reilly Radar.