STOP USING THE TERM WEB 2.0

That’s it I’ve had it. Let’s kill the term Web 2.0. It’s dated and completely misrepresents what’s really happening online today. To be perfectly honest, it makes us in the information profession look way bad because we insist on using this term or even the 2.0 terminology.

Origins of the Term

I get that it’s still used in professional literature in both the archival and library fields. Where did this term come from? What was the reaction to it?

To start with if you don’t already know, the 2.0 bit relates to software versioning. It’s implied that with web 2.0 that we’ve reached the second version of the web, which is problematic at best because the software that underpins the internet is various and diverse, and if we were following those versions, we’d probably be up to version 746 or something. This actually presents a problem worth addressing further a bit later.

Briefly this term was first coined in 1999 and popularized in 2004 by Tim O’Rielly, namely at a conference he started to explore the web, its content and tools. 1. On a basic level, the term is taken to mean interactivity and dynamic content online. This is often thought about in terms of user generated content.[^2] The reasoning for the 2.0 moniker was that this was a new version of the web that was greater than the previous version of the web that was seen as static and not dynamic. Tim Berners-Lee didn’t like the term and thought of it as jargon, but he was personally excited by the idea of the semantic web.[^3] So taken together we have a term that’s around 17 years old, and had problems even when it was coined. In some respects using a term like 2.0, calls to mind the new coke fiasco. “New Internet, now with more content”. It’s buzzy, but more on that later.

As side note, ALA has adopted the software versioning approach seen for web 2.0 for their own purposes.  We now have Library 2.0, shinier better, but with fewer books to get in the way. I kid, but this suffers from many of the same issues of web 2.0. It’s just jargon and doesn’t tell our users anything. 2

Reasons for Moving away

So what’s wrong with the term? Let’s start with Berners-Lee’s comment about it being jargon. It most decidedly is jargon, or a term that’s used by a profession that usually has little meaning to those outside of the profession. For a while, it may have made those of use in libraries feel a connection to the tech field. It may have made use feel on the frontier. It’s a fun little term us information professionals can throw out to make ourselves look “modern”.  How many times have you heard or said the following? “Look administrator we have the web 2.0’s because our organization is on Facebook.” The reality is that you aren’t doing anything other than crossing of a check mark and throwing, well lobbing is more right, a buzz word around. Our literature almost demands that you have web 2.0. Upgrade or perish!!. As anyone, who’s really worked with social media in libraries know that this isn’t something to jump into without planning. How an organization works online is a programmatic initiative not just that really isn’t dealt with by a term web 2.0.

Another reason to avoid jargon, is that it confuses our users or they may not understand. Some may say “Neato my library has web 2.0”, but ultimately they care about the interaction they are having with your organization. Focus on the interaction, what does the tool actually do to help a meaningful and positive interaction? Then start talking about that interaction, not about this web 2.0 mess. If its so users can use materials from home and supply their on comments, tell them that. If it’s so they can create their on research collection, explain that. Users will appreciate being able to understand you without jargon getting in the way.

Another issue I have with this term is that it’s not really precise or kept up with the advancements in online communication and systems. Most libraries and archives have really focused on the user-generated content aspect of web 2.0 and this aspect alone is what much of the literature deals with this. This runs the gamut of facebook comments, tagging in catalogs, image annotation, etc. So really, for me when I see this term use, it’s about how libraries and archives interact with their users to both help them discover content and provide meaningful description of that content. This is a great pursuit but because this is the usual usage, it misses a lot of what’s offered by the modern web, such as access to big data, the semantic web, collaborative and real-time interactions, private sharing, etc, etc. Essentially by focusing on this term and its understood meaning in the field, we are limiting our understanding of what work can be done online and what we can do with online resources. We are also solely focusing on one aspect of online work and limiting discussion of other types of work that can be done because it doesn’t fall within this intellectual frame-work. This could potentially hold informational professionals back intellectually.

So to repeat, reasons that web 2.0 is bad. It’s jargon and It’s not truly precise. I say we start saying what we mean. If you are using Facebook, say we are working with social media to interact with our users. If you are working with big data, say that you are doing that. Be open in your explanations and avoid the jargon that does explain what you are doing. Maybe this is just a pointless rant. Maybe I should embrace the collective will and succumb to the usage of this term. Maybe be the only one who hates this word, but I’m ok with that.  I’ll just have to be happy in my little, corner of the web covered in ash, and calling for the burial of Web 2.0.


  1.  http://www.paulgraham.com/web20.html
    [^2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0#cite_note-graham-1
    [^3]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4132752.stm, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/podcast/dwi/cm-int082206txt.html 
  2. http://www.ala.org/tools/atoz/library-20 
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