Sure, “Web 2.0″ is mostly a punchline at this point, but there is some truth and some value in the construction. Tim O’Reilly helped bring the phrase into common usage in 2004, so let’s think about what the Web was like a decade ago.
Blogging was in the mainstream consciousness — “blog” was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2004 — but blogs were being considered largely as an emerging source of “news” in the traditional sense. LiveJournal had been around for five years already, but personal blogging was still an odd backwater scene.
Thefacebook was less than a year old and still limited to students at a handful of colleges. Twitter would not appear for two more years, and Tumblr was even further out. Six Degrees and Friendster were around, but MySpace was fast becoming the social network that mattered.
YouTube did not exist.
And lest we forget: in 2004 the Internet sat on a desk in your office or living room. You accessed the Internet through a computer, and quite possibly a computer that you shared with others. Your phone was for making phone calls, or the occasional text message. (Average American cell phone users sent about 200 text messages per year in 2004, a number that we blow through in a week or so these days.)
The degree of access to information and people that the Internet offered was incredibly exciting, but by our current standards it was a static, slow, and largely one-directional experience.
Web 2.0 — the rise of the “social Web” — really did represent a massive shift in how we use and how we think about the Internet. We became participants and contributors, rather than an audience. In 2014 the Internet is a thread woven through an ever-increasing part of our lives and relationships, where a decade ago we just browsed the Web sometimes.
Whatever you may think of the label, it’s hard to argue against the proposition that Web 2.0 — the social web — represented a major version upgrade on v1. And while I don’t claim to know what the 3.0 release will look like, I think that the exploration we’re seeing right now represents some pretty late releases in the 2.x series.
Five years. Maybe.