No. Really. It’s not *about* the technology.

[[Hello, Scobleizers! If you like this post, you might want to read:
Web 2.0 – It’s not about the technology
Designing for the Sandbox – slides from my presentation
Designing for the Sandbox – the original post
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Relinquish Control
]]

Rashmi challenges my philosophical bent with her writeup of the web 2.0 panel:

In my opinion, the logic (philosophy if you will) of Web 2.0 reflects its technological underpinnings. A good example is the open source movement. Now, we even have open source beer. But initially, to understand the philosophy of open-source you had to understand developer speak. As Stewart Butterfield noted at the panel, Flickr wanted rich interactivity (refreshing parts of the page at a time) so they had API hooks – they kind of went with it, rather than fighting it. The API’s facilitated the openness. Currently, the logic behind Web 2.0 is baked into API’s, RSS etc. Also, I question whether any business will move to this approach because it is a compelling philosophy. They will shift because it is an attractive business proposition, or because technically it makes sense/is unavoidable, or a mix of both.)

But I think this is exactly backwards. Open source didn’t require developer speak. As Eric Raymond showed, he had to get *developers* to understand open source by using metaphors of cathedrals and bazaars. The conceptual underpinnings are not predicated on the technology.

APIs facilitate openness, but they’re meaningless if your organization doesn’t have the conceptual underpinnings to take advantage of it. And while the “logic” of Web 2.0 might be baked into APIs, RSS, etc. (and I’m not so sure about that), the approach is not.

If business shifts to this approach *without* appreciating the compelling philosophy, well, they’ll fuck it up. They’ll fuck it up the way that Barnes and Noble did when they simply tried to copy Amazon’s features. The point isn’t the features, it’s the underlying philosophy of relinquishing control. Since Barnes and Noble as a company didn’t appreciate the philosophy, they invested a lot of time and energy into features that then languished. Same thing with Blockbuster. They tried to copy Netflix’ policy of No Late Fees — but because they don’t have the philosophical underpinnings in place, they fucked it up, and now have to post big “End of Late Fees Terms” links on their home page, because customers were getting confused when, after having a DVD for a week, they found out they were then charged the COST of that DVD.

As Ross made clear, simply adopting Web 2.0 technologies does not make you a Web 2.0 enterprise.

In fact, I’m a little distressed that the program chair for BayCHI (the “H” stands for “Human”!) would express such… technological determinism about this. As Paul Rademacher said on the panel — these technologies have been around for at least 5 years… They’re being adopted *because* the philosophy is starting to spread…

6 thoughts on “No. Really. It’s not *about* the technology.

  1. i couldn’t agree with you more… on all counts. a first! ;)

  2. I agree with you. In fact most programmers I know don’t like the term web 2.0. The comment I usually hear is “These technologies have been around for a while, so shouldn’t we be on web 3.0 or 4.0?” Then when the philosophy is explained you get a “oh, ok”. This is an example of why technologies execute the solution but do not drive the strategy or philosophy.

  3. I too agree, Peter. Here’s another example of how companies fuck up when they try to open up without understanding the philosophy behind it. My takeaway from this is something that might be the greatest challenege in spreading what’s being called web 2.0…

    It’s hard to give up control.

  4. I *have* heard the philosophy explained, and it’s exactly the same philosophy you’d have heard driving the development of “Web 1.0″, had anyone been listening at the time. Read the original Internet RFCs if you want to see some technical people write philsophically driven APIs.

  5. Well said. I find the same thing happening with businesses trying to get on the blogging bandwagon. Setting up a blog (i.e. the technology) doesn’t change your business. For a business to truly change with the times it needs to change its culture and I think the Web itself can help us here. Why? Because I think all of the values we are looking for are actually contained within the Web with regards to how it works. I’m still trying to figure out all of these cultural values but some are evident such as openness, equality, and collaboration.

    In effect, if we determined the cultural values of the Web as though it was a person (or more aptly our collective cultural values) then I think we could change the culture of business which would allow many companies to move forwards into the future of change. The biggest obstacle in achieving this though is that for this to work, those advocating this cultural change need to be practicing what they preach. Why? Because most companies will not change unless they can see proof that other businesses have changed and are benefiting because of it.

    The question is how many companies are truly practicing what they preach? I’d love for example to get inside of companies like 37signals though and discover what their environment and culture is like. I’m sure you’d find similarities with their culture and how the Web works today (i.e. equality and cooperation: no titles, no org chart, everyone given a voice). The thing that I’m still not seeing enough of though is openness, specifically with regards to the new buzzword word of transparency. How many companies are truly trying to become transparent and open with their customers?

  6. “Currently, the logic behind Web 2.0 is baked into API’s, RSS etc.”

    I’m not sure how to read this: if she means “APIs and RSS automatically provide a Web 2.0 experience”, that’s patently wrong. Microsoft and every other large software companies have used APIs as a lock-in technique for years, and Stewart said as much in his talk. Once you learn the MSFT APIs, it’s a huge pain to change. This use of APIs to clamp down on openness is the far more common use of them. Flickr’s not “more open” simply because they publish some API methods–they are more open because you could remove or change all your data in Flickr via those methods.

    On the other hand, if that sentence means “people working on Web 2.0 currently mostly express those ideas via technologies like RSS and Ajax”, well, I wouldn’t disagree with that.