Web 2.0 Notes


Robin Sloan’s piece “Notes on Web3” made me consider the “versions” of the web I have lived through (note: all of them), before bringing me to how far we’ve come in 2021:

If you’re 22 years old, Twitter has been around for about as long as you’ve known how to read. YouTube is fixed as firmly as the stars. I honestly don’t know how that feels, but I wonder if it’s claustrophobic?

First, that’s an interesting way to put it. Second, I think I get it. A lot of things felt claustrophobic in my 20’s (waterfall & software distribution models).

The desire for something better and free from existing constraints is generational. It’s real.

What was Web 2.0 anyway?

I rarely think about it anymore but if you need a reminder, I present a series of observations of the transition through ‘Web 2.0’:

  • A core belief that you could do everything in a web browser.1
  • Web 2.0’s assumption that XML would solve everything. (Literally everything).
  • Standardization was big. XML standards for interchange of all sorts of business domains.
  • If Linux felt counter-culture, The RedHat IPO in 1999 coincided with the view of “Web 2.0” being different, and we were winning.2
  • In contrast, established companies made interoperability a pipe dream.3
  • Prevalent in conferences was a belief that the future of software involved no integration work. Integration work could be done by an analyst.4
  • A belief that adherence to standards would commoditize everything about systems administration.5
  • Mashups were seemingly everywhere (and they were fun!)
  • By the time Sun sold to Oracle (2008-2009), the best of Web 2.0 was winding down (just as Facebook was ramping up).

That’s the nutshell. I’m not a fan of labels like “Web 2.0” and I’m sure there’s a compendium of everything that went into it (I left out quite a bit), but the vibe was thus.

In the End

Money fueled the party.. and then the housing crisis hit. But for a period of time, you can imagine a world where the above seemed new and fresh.

Starting around 2010 I was meeting very successful entrepreneurs whose perspectives sounded downright anachronistic.6 They wanted to repeat the formula that got them to where they were from the late 90’s (ie hire big, spend big, assume product-market fit). Only then was I able to sense how things had shifted.

(image by@hishahadat)

  1. History rewarded those who believed in the supremecy of the browser. ↩︎

  2. I made no money on the IPO. I had no money to invest. ↩︎

  3. Their positions were boring, even their docs were boring. Everything about them was boring. ↩︎

  4. Enter the term ‘doodleware’ (cf. the No-Code movement). ↩︎

  5. In hindsight, I think a rejection of this view contributed to the grassroots desire for ‘dev ops’ as a discipline. ↩︎

  6. Reading the proverbial ’tea leaves’, this was the point you could start to see who followed trends and who was just lucky. The best of Web 2.0 was behind us, but some very wealthy dudes (they were all dudes) didn’t get the memo. Being lucky was all they knew. ↩︎