Thursday, February 7, 2013

The problem with "versioning" the web: web 1.0,2.0,3.0, 4.0.....

I posted late last month on the problem with Western-centric and other efforts to define social media. My observations here relate to that concern, but focus specifically on the Web 2.0 buzzword and related terminology that has caught the fancy of so many people these days.  If the purpose of a definition is to provide policymakers, managers or ordinary citizens with some clarity about what social media, the world wide web or the internet are all about, there are several reasons to avoid being seduced by the "versioning" approach to defining things or describing their history.  I list some of them here, not necessarily in order of importance, but in hopes of eliciting cogent response from readers of this blog.
1.  Consider the origin of the term Web 2.0.  It was introduced by Tim O'Reilly, the wealthy founder of a large technology publishing house and was originally used as the catchy title for a conference.  Later, the event title was expanded into a concept that proposed separating various versions of the web.  This explains why the concept of "Web 1.0" never existed before Web 2.0 started to catch on.  For a thoughtful treatment of all this, I recommend Scholz's article on "Market Ideology and the Myths of Web 2.0).  The term's origins on the commercial/business side of the internet also explain why leading scholars have not adopted it to any great extent.
2. Most scholars and policymakers would agree that the information revolution is an ongoing process, driven by the core reality that semiconductors keep getting smaller, cheaper and more powerful, resulting in exponential increases in computing, communications and network power.  Most would probably also agree that it is a single, digital revolution that involves fixed, mobile and satellite communications, and is global in scope.   Therefore, any naming or categorization scheme that proposes to clearly demarcate versions, such as Web 2.0, 3.0,4.0 and so forth is more likely to confuse than to clarify understanding.
3. On the face of it, it seems that the "versioning" approach had its origins in the practice long used by software engineers and programmers of naming the subsequent versions of their software.   This is epitomized by Microsoft, which is now attempting to market its Windows 8.0 software in a changed world which has moved away from desktop computing toward mobile and cloud-based solutions.  I would argue that even the versioning of software these days conjures up memories of the near-constant need to patch and update Microsoft Windows or office products in a desktop environment.  Furthermore, the versioning approach to describing the web and its history makes one immediately wonder where it will all end.  On this topic, John Mell, in his blog on Social Collaboration, has nicely summarized some views that I share. (see his post "Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0--where will it end?")
4. Conceptually, in the search for a clear, workable definition, the versioning approach is a disaster.  Each new version leaves even the most thoughtful reader with an increased number of questions about how Web 2.0 is different from Web 3.0 and exactly what Web 4.0 adds to Web 3.0 and so forth.  According to one thoughtful tech writer, even Tim O'Reilly himself, originator of the Web 2.0 term, has suggested that the different "versions" don't really exist and that they are just part of one, continually changing web. (that post was aptly titled "There is no Web 3.0 There is no Web 2.0 --There is just the web.)
5. I could go on, but in case you think I'm pushing the argument too far, do a little search exercise.  Use Google to search for Web 2.0.  Then search for Web 3.0, then 4.0, 5.0 and so forth and see how high you can go and what the results return.
Enough said.  As always, I encourage thoughtful comments and will be please to amend my thinking and do further posts on this topic.

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