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August 30, 2007

Web 2.0? Does that Mean I Have to Reinstall My Internet?

Remember when Virtual Reality was going to be the future of online interaction? Or when the Information Superhighway was the speedy road to success? We’ve been through Cyberspace, where all the previously-named Virtual [blanks] became Cyber [blanks], and then we landed in the middle of Dot Com. At first it was the Dot Com Industry, and then the Dot Com Craze. And now it’s forced to reside in the Land of Failed Business Models as the Dot Com Bubble or Dot Bomb. These were all the best new ways to describe the best new thing. But was it something new, or was it just a new label? Was it a better product or a better buzzword?

Where are we now? We’re still getting used to the newest word: Web 2.0. Nothing says “new and improved” like “2.0”. Of course, the Internet isn’t really “new and improved”. No one has sat down and designed a brand new World Wide Web. But the name is perfect. It’s perfect for a fresh start and a second chance. Investors get a little twitchy when things like “bubbles” go and “burst”. “New and Improved” is the perfect way to get them to come back.

But no one really seems to be sure what Web 2.0 actually applies to. There is no massive, all-encompassing upgrade to the Internet. No change in underlying technology. The phrase seems to apply to those newcomers that involve customer interaction. What are they called? You know, those things that allow users to post their opinions on literally anything they want… and in an environment where users can respond with their own opinions. What are they called? BBSes? No, wait – Homepages? Oh, right. Blogs. That’s it. They’re blogs now. Of course. Silly me.

And since we haven’t been able to clearly define what Web2.0 encompasses, we begin to develop new buzzwords to describe our first buzzwords. It’s a vicious cycle. We’ve created phrases like “social networking,” the “semantic web,” and – like the cyber- and virtual- days before it – we’ve started tagging a precious “2.0” to the back of all our other industry titles. When I see an advertisement for Lawn Care 2.0 I’m walking away from my marketing job and never coming back.

There is another problem with this particular buzzword, and that is the question whether or not it actually describes anything new and different at all. Is it really all that impressive that people are using a world wide network to… network?

Sure, we’re delivering information at more phenomenal rates than ever before, which allows us to change some of the mediums that carry that information… but other than that, the only thing that seems to have changed is the venture capitalist willingness to throw money and Internet companies again.

And who wouldn’t want to? After all, social networking and other web applications have made billions… if, of course, they happen to get purchased by Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google.

I’ve been a writer for years. I also have the potential to make millions of dollars from a book. After all, a bunch of other authors have done so. I think I’m a pretty good author, and I could probably tell a story that is a lot like those million dollar books. And yet, no one has thrown a lot of venture capitol my way. There must be something wrong with them.

Maybe I just need more buzzwords.

Novel 2.0!

Now the bleeding edge of literature doesn’t have to involve paper cuts. And you can be part of it for a mere 100k investment!

Who could refuse? Novels will be the wave of literary future. Surely if J.K. Rowling can sell eight and a half million copies in a single day, surely a book that looks a lot like it but adds a couple new features will make almost as much money?

It’s not going to happen. A lot of similar books will hit the shelves, but it will never be the same. Historically, it never works. But history has never had much to do with the prevailing business mentality that people will only buy the same thing over and over again.

But somehow, in the online world, all it takes is a few well placed buzzwords to convince investors that they are worth bucket-fulls of money. Somehow we’re sure that a slightly tweaked use of old technology will garner the attention of Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google.

Is it because of the power of the almighty buzzword?

Do you realize that “buzzword” is, in fact, a buzzword? (There’s that vicious cycle again.)

Writers can do a lot with buzzwords, and it doesn’t matter if the current preference is for Information Superhighways or Dot Coms or Web 2.0s, we can make something of it. Sometimes we can make millions of dollars of it.

During the Dot Com Craze we had convinced ourselves that we were on the cusp of a revolution. People were ready to throw money at Internet businesses rather than business models. Who needs a model when you’ve got the Internet… and a pocket-full of buzzwords? The Dot Com revolution was going to be amazing. It was going to revolutionize the way we interacted with each other, the way we shopped, the way we advertised, the way we learned, the way we accessed information.

It didn’t really happen.

Luckily, now we’ve got Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is going to revolutionize the way we interact with each other, the way we shop, the way we advertise, the way we learn, and the way we access information.

Whew. Finally!

So until it’s time for the next big thing to describe the same old thing, as writers we’ll hold onto our buzzwords like secret, mystical words that, when put in the right order, will create magic. Or, if we’re really lucky, money.

But what about the Art? No one chooses writing as a career without at least a little desire to create – a need to make something with a little quality.

Are we ruining that by succumbing to the convenience of the buzzword? Do we sell out just a little bit every time we leverage the synergy of optimized word usage?

Maybe.

But what can we do about it? Wait for the current bubble to burst and then be the first to name the next trend?

Maybe.

It’s not exactly Art, but there is definitely an art to it. Shifting Paradigms and Revolutionizing Outside the Box can only be used in certain ways. The right way means a catchy phrase and intellectual influence. A true Masterpiece. The wrong way means a words that are hollow and completely devoid of meaning. The wrong way is a cheap fake… from a dot matrix printer… printed on tattered, sun-faded construction paper.

There’s nothing wrong with big, trendy words. In fact, they’re usually fun to play around with. We just have to remember to use them for good rather than evil. We can obfuscate or we can enlighten. The choice is ours.

Author:  Andy Eliason spends his time writing and being generally pessimistic about the state of Internet affairs. You can learn more about Internet marketing at Main10, the company he works for.

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