John C. Dvorak, Cranky Geek and long respected old dude, has penned a shallow but multi-part whine about the web 2.0 economy and the likelihood that it’s going to collapse at any moment. It’s titled Bubble 2.0 Coming Soon and it’s crap. This stuff drives me nuts – so I’m going to blog about it.
Ubiquitous broadband and the clear utility of the internet is changing the world and all our lives. Millions of people are using MySpace and YouTube and they are never going back. Small companies are seeing their technology get acquired or licenced and leveraged by large brands left and right. There are countless parts of everyday life that are or could be benefiting from asynchronous, distance-free communication online. In the mean time there’s an entire economy being built and it’s ok to be excited about it.
Dvorak’s screed has hit Digg and Slashdot, probably because there are lots and lots of people who are in a position similar to his. They don’t want to lose face by being enthusiastic about the internet again for fear its economy could take another big downturn. They aren’t paying enough attention to tell the difference between Blip.tv and Vimeo. (Blip works closely with publishers of grassroots serialized content and is licenced by CNN and Vimeo is an IAC property that emphasized privacy, the arts and is being used to serve ads across IAC properties. Neither is a “YouTube clone.”) Finally, I think they are freaked out at their oncoming loss of status when the media gates are thrown open, the youngsters freak out over incomprehensible rock and roll and these oldsters are plagued in their sleep by Dramatic Chipmunks turning and looking at them accusingly – over and over again but saying nothing.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Everyone can appreciate the awesomeness that is the emerging web of user generated content, online video and countless other paradigm shifting innovations. This is like the invention of the printing press or the television. It really is.
First though, we’ve got to clear up some misconceptions. Conveniently, Dvorak today posted almost every tired trope of the web 2.0 cynic. His list in italics, my responses afterwords. I wrote this on the city bus going home from work – I think it warrants even if it doesn’t require a more thorough engagement.
Every single person working in the media today who experienced the dot-com bubble in 1999 to 2000 believes that we are going through the exact same process and can expect the exact same results—a bust…
Neo-social networking. Today everything from YouTube to the local church has a social-networking angle. And this doesn’t even consider the actual social-networking sites, from MySpace to LinkedIn to Facebook to even Second Life. This scene is totally out of control and will contribute to the collapse for sure.
I say: Social networking is an emerging utility that combines the functionality of blogging’s self publishing with the usefulness of email list serves. Social networking services make these activities more accessible than ever before. They are a great way to find people you’ve lost touch with (MySpace, for example) and the local church is going to continue eating up the collaboration and easy content management that social networking provides. Niches here will be even more viable when profile and newsfeed portability is made easier. These services provide substantial value to the lives of everyday people and they will never go away as long as the internet exists.
Video mania. With dozens and dozens of YouTube clones cropping up to get on the “throw money away” bandwagon, you must sense that the eventual shakeout in this space will have a negative impact.
I say: Ad networks (ok, ad networks) tell me that there are countless niche video sites, from car lovers to cooking, that are already making money on video. There are food blogs alone with subscribers in the hundreds of thousands. Make it even easier to incorporate video into these strong niches online and the money being invested in this sector will make plenty of sense. I work for one of these vendors, but I took the job because I believe in the sector’s future.
User-generated content. This idea has been around since Usenet and just keeps improving. It will make no contribution to the overall collapse except for users reporting the collapse.
I say: UGC is the content that ads are sold against and publishing services themselves are in some cases directly monetizable (Flickr, for example). Dvorak should have argued that fear of brand damage by UGC is a threat to the web 2.0 economy – I think it’s one of the most viable threats, in fact. In the long run, though, there’s just too much money to be made in an entirely new economy for advertisers to stay on the sidelines much more for much longer.
Mobile everything. Here is another concept that has been in play since the mid-1990s. It cannot trigger a collapse since it will never fully get off the ground, although the iPhone mania may be a bad sign of something.
I say: Oh come on, now. Can anyone really not tell the difference between the mobile economy of today and of 10 years ago? Everyone has mobile phones now and the mobile experience is much more compelling. I’m not talking about the iPhone, I’m talking about global demand for mobile content and services that blows away anything in history and makes supply an undeniably big business. Unless, that is, North America turns out to be some freak of the developed world.
Ad-leveraged search. Most search engines will fail as a matter of course. This segment of the industry is mundane. It would be affected by a crash but not trigger one.
I say: Maybe maybe not. There will probably be a lot of consolidation here but good search is good search. Google’s not going anywhere and it’s the foundation of the search economy.
Widgets and toolbars. I cannot see the widget scene going crazy, and the jury is still out on toolbars. But there is the potential for nuttiness, I think. The problem here is that these things tend to be dependent on the stability of operating systems and browsers. One bad operating-system patch and suddenly nothing works.
I say: What on earth is he talking about? Are widgets an OS dependent application on the desktop? Maybe 5 years ago – today the vast majority of widgets live on web pages and make the *proven* “small pieces loosely joined paradigm” accessible to people with fewer technical skills than ever. Monetization? Advertising, data mining or loss leader – there’s plenty of hope for widgets.
Toolbars? The jury is still out on toolbars? Who does Dvorak hang out with that even talks about toolbars anymore – much less for whom the jury is out?
Why on earth is this man considered a leading voice on tech? I’m guessing that it’s because he speaks to the potent paranoia of much of the aging population – afraid in the face of a changing, confusing world that they will face humiliation if they bet on new tech, that they will be unemployed if things take a downturn or that they will lose their self-righteous know-it-all credentials if this new economy does succeed.
I for one am sick of it. I’m excited about the direction the web is going in and I think many people truly paying attention are as well.
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