One of the biggest selling points that Web 2.0 proponents like to wave about is the immense social change that it is going; or has brought about. It is the incredible democratization of our society that will forever change the way we interact with each other and the world at large. It is the warm and fuzzy on a global village scale were everyone knows your name and is your friend.
Well I have only one thing to say about this idealized rose colored view of the cyber-landscape – bullshit.
While the early players in this game may actually have had good intentions the reality is there is only one thing that drives the whole Web 2.0 framework and that is money. Google may have once been a search centric company but now they are a money driven public corporation that found advertising cleverly done was the ticket to incredible riches. They might cloak their money making efforts with a modicum of socially cool ideas but the fact is Gmail is free because no-body in their right mind would pay for a bland second rate email client. They will however let their information – regardless of the Google service used – be used to feed the Google advertising money machine.
Facebook is no different – it has just found a different way to get even more and better information from us that is going to drive their advertising money machine. This doesn’t even take into account the incredible fortunes that lay in the future for them as they really begin to data mine that rich treasure trove of personal information. After all once you give them all that information; and continually update it it daily, you do not own it anymore – they do and they can do anything they want with it. How much do you think politicians would be willing to pay for all that data come election time; or how about pharmaceutical companies or … well you get the point. Facebook could potentially be sitting on a treasure worth more than Google and Microsoft combined and you gave it to them freely.
Even now start-ups in Web 2.0 aren’t looking for business models. Instead they are looking for exit strategies and hopefully before they have to start paying the piper. This is on top of the fact that outside the founding members of the whole Web 2.0 nonsense everything is just a copy with a new set of Web 2.0 color schemes. No-one is bringing anything new to the table let alone doing anything that will produce social changes.
To bring about any social change requires thinking outside of the box and incredible leaps of faith. Tim Berners-Lee did this when he and Robert Cailliau invented the world wide web – our world has never been the same since. Shawn Fanning of Napster and the YouTube trio of Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim have forever changed how we deal with audio and video. Along the way they have totally changed the whole entertainment business. That is social change and I don’t care how many copycats in new suits come along they don’t care one wit about making social changes – they only care about the exit strategies and the pot of gold at the end of the VC rainbow.
Another fantasy of Web 2.0 is how it will change the corporate computing landscape with the proliferation of yet again bland second rate applications. Well as Rick Mahn quite rightly pointed out in a post today
…. but the reality is that a lot of these “fun” technologies simply do not solve a business need. That is one problem with technology. As soon as the fun starts to evaporate and you start serious talk about monitization, the trouble starts.
If you think that things like Zoho and Google Docs is even close to being applications that are capable of running daily operations of Fortune 500 corporations or mission critical governmental organizations then you better head to the grocery store and stock up on your kool-aid. Thinking that corporations really give a damn about some silly ass web service that lets you nudge someone or send them a slice of pizza is nothing short of brain dead optimism.
Web 2.0 only cares about one thing and that is making as much money as they can – however they can – from all that information you hand over freely with every passing day. They don’t care about effecting social changes because that take originality and idealism neither of which is overly abundant in Web 2.0. You can put lipstick on a pig but that doesn’t change the fact you are still dealing with a pig.
Social change isn’t fun – it is painful and usually costs lots of money; either directly or indirectly, which is the anathema of today’s who’s got the most billions from their startup buyouts. Web 2.0 is our modern day case of the Emperor’s Suit which people are slowly discovering is not all that it is cracked up to be. They may not understand the feeling that is beginning to creep in around the edges of the bubble but they know something is happening.
Myself I do believe whole heartily that the web and technology can still effect great social changes but not as long as we continually get distracted by catch phrases like Web 2.0 which are nothing more that cool catchy marketing terms. Funnily enough and even though Robert Scoble might have declared them dead and boring I do think that blogs can play an important part in any future social changes. I even think that the Web 2.0 darling Twitter can be more than a bit player. The future social fabric of our society will depend on more that Facebook nudges or pat on the back groups. It will depend on more than bland second rate web applications that feed monstrous advertising money machines. It will depend on more than us snacking on bite size morsels of information.
As long as we keep falling for this illusion of how Web 2.0 is going to change the world though the kool-aid makers will keep getting rich off of us, the technological divide will continue to grow and social change will continue to be a marketing catch phrase used to further fleece us of our information.