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Buzzword 2.0

The BBC have been carrying a story today on the rise of Web 2.0 and Flock, to tie in with a report on this evening's Newsnight (the report can be seen on the Newsnight website for the next twenty-four hours). I can't say that I'm too impressed.

I've tried Flock (see my earlier comments), and have found it to be a generally unimpressive experience, in that it doesn't add any significantly new additional browser functionality that was not already available as extensions to Firefox. Given that Flock is probably about 98+% Firefox in terms of lines of code, this doesn't justify the hype that has surrounded the release of Flock 0.5 alpha. Granted, it does have quite a pretty new skin, but that's not exactly earth-shattering.

Flock is the most recent piece of software to be identified with what is fast becoming known as Web 2.0. The view that we are seeing a phase change in the nature of the Web is quite prevalent amongst some of the more vocal parts of the blogorati, and amongst some of the refugees from the dotcom boom, but it's more style than substance. Certainly, there's nothing about Web 2.0 systems that was not possible with existing (Web 1.0) technologies. Instead, we're being asked to believe that Web 2.0 is a different way of thinking about the Web, a Web where all can participate equally, and where useful services spring unbidden from social interactions.

A central theme of Web 2.0 is therefore that of emergent intelligence, that together we're somehow smarter than we are individually. This doesn't sound particularly 2.0 to me, but rather too much like some of the more hyperbolic future-posturing from the pages of WiReD magazine c. 1998. On a more cynical note, I could add that the Web 2.0 is a kneejerk reaction from those members of the blogorati that prefer syntactic XML markup to the more stable foundation for shared understanding that is afforded by the Semantic Web, and that they're sleepwalking into the very problems that the Semantic Web is designed to mitigate against, but that would just be petty of me.

Both the BBC News report and the segment on tonight's Newsnight were quite reminiscent of the mainstream media hype during the dotcom boom in the sheer breathlessness of the reporting. The web report was centred on Barcamp in Amsterdam earlier this month, but the television report also featured footage from the O'Reilly-organised Web 2.0 Conference (with about ten seconds of a Cory Doctorow rant, and some pictures of stories from Make:) . In the television report, Paul Mason interviewed Andy Smith and Chris Messina of Flock, who had "built a new web browser". As I've already stated, I think that statement is quite disingenuous. The BBC News report notes that Flock is based on Firefox, but the Newsnight segment didn't go so far as to even mention this debt. Overall, I'm very disappointed by this sort of reporting from the BBC. It was largely devoid of analysis, and just repeated the Web 2.0 hype uncritically.

In short, I wasn't expecting the BBC to drink the Kool Aid.

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I personally think that the Web 2.0 hype is atually symptomatic of a major phase change in IT itself - specifically the move away from application centric development to process and service centric. Web 2.0 is currently compsoed of people flailing around trying to find a UI paradigm for these changes.

Some have made money out of it, but most won't...

There are some good ideas out there. Flock is interesting as it tries to put a single UI one several disparate services - but as a browser it disappoints (mainly down to the generally flakiness of the point at which they forked from the Firefox 1.5 trunk).

I'm much more interested in the work that's being done in the rich client space - like the Southampton semantic web explorers Davey Winder wrote about in his PC Pro column this month (any of them yours?). It maps to what's happening in the back end much more effectively.

A general purpose browser isn't the place for multiple-input asynchronously-triggered state machines - they're designed for the stateless HTTP world and fail dismally...

the Southampton semantic web explorers Davey Winder wrote about in his PC Pro column this month (any of them yours?)

Haven't read the article, but I know that monica schraefel and her students have been getting a lot of exposure for their mSpace-based SW browsers recently. My long-suffering ex-officemate Steve and myself developed the first SW mSpace, CS AKTiveSpace, so there's a chance that it's tangentially mentioned in the article.

My friend Matt comments on his views about all the Web 2.0 hoopla here: Your comments and his combine to make me feel both smug, and superior about something I really know nothing about. Sort of "my friends are smart and they know better, so NER". I probably epitomise the little knowledge=dangerous thing.

Thanks for the pointer. There's quite a bit of criticism towards Web 2.0, so I can't be the only grouch.

I'm wondering about some of the commentary and nascent nay 'emergent' common sense about Open Source (OS).

The message from the movie Field Of Dreams was 'If you build it they will come', a story of magic, mystery and baseball in the Midwest. That was a film, it was make believe, a fairy story. Yet the same principle is being applied to OS. If you make your App OS 'they will come' and magical things will happen. The software fairies will arrive and sprinkle pixie dust on your App and you will be given a shiny new version.

I don't doubt that there are large pockets of enthusiasts who want to play, hack, innovate but 'they' are a finite number of people. They can only do so much coding, so much munching of muesli before spending the rest of the night ranting, blogging and creating the new Jerusalem.

Perhaps the real point here is the Technorati understand this all too well and are taking their cue from Hollywood; Getting attention and cultural momentum behind their project is a new project milestone. In Hollywood the hype is always strongest before the movie comes out.

Meanwhile, time passes and the number of OS apps increase. All waiting for Godot to turn up and beta test.

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