Why it's time to dump the Web 2.0 sobriquet once and for all

The technology is moving too fast and increasingly, enterprise companies are taking the lead. So why are we sticking with a marketing term that's so yesterday?

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
3 min read

Maybe it's a throwback to my childhood recollections of "duck and cover" school drills, but this nuclear winter Andreessen thing is still rattling around in my head.

First, the gloomy view: The economy is slowing down and so what's up with the increasingly pointless me-too social-networking apps getting link love these days on Techmeme? They're cute, but outside of the echo chamber regulars, who really cares? Let's be frank: The world does not need another social news aggregator or online scheduling assistant.

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Now, the slightly more optimistic view: This isn't the first time that caution is the byword, and it won't be the last. Silicon Valley survived the Internet bubble, so why should anyone believe that it won't get through another recession?

What's more, the tech business is doing well. And the recent run of earnings announcements from the likes of Intel, Apple, IBM, Google--and even Yahoo--suggests that while folks may not be buying lots of houses, they continue to buy lots of computers.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that advertising will be hit hard in any recession, and that would be bad news for the prototypical Web 2.0 start-up. Here's where it starts to get really interesting. The definition of your prototypical Web 2.0 company is undergoing a change from what it connoted in 2005. Browse through the roster of companies exhibiting at this week's Web 2.0 conference and you'll find enterprise-heavy names like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco-WebEx, among others.

We've seen this movie before. The history of the computer industry is chockablock with examples of smaller, innovative entrepreneurs shaking up the status quo to the point where the mainstream companies either figure out how to coexist in the new world order or pass the baton.

I don't know where we are in the transition, but there's no getting around the fact that the constellation of forces in software is shifting. Companies like Twitter still draw more comment in the blogosphere, but look what's happening with Web 2.0. We're now in a phase where bigger hardware and software companies with deep pockets are starting to predominate. (In many cases, because they buy up innovative start-ups to get into the game such as AOL-Beebo. Other times because they come up with new technology models like Microsoft's cloud platform push with Live Services and Live Mesh.) Lots of reasons behind the enterprise companies' interest but maybe it boils down to something as simple as companies just trying to stay relevant. Fact is that as more young people graduate into the work place, the new generations will import online habits they learned growing up into their work routines.

In a recession, they'll fare better in any storm than companies which don't have an apparent exit strategy, according to Barry Schuler, a former CEO of America Online and now a private investor.

"With social media, no one's figured out how to monetize things yet," Schuler said. "In a certain sense, it looks a lot like 1997. The hiccup will be if there is a recession. The least proven stuff, the companies that haven't decoded a business model, will be the stuff that gets dropped. If there's one thing we learned through the Internet bubble, you can say this is a new economy, but in the end, P&L does matter."

We're fast approaching a point where it's time to find a more fitting sobriquet. Better yet, maybe we should just dump an awkward marketing umbrella term entirely. It just gets in the way of clear thinking.