Long Live The King

A good place to start looking for clues into what the future of the Web will look like is in the historical record and memories of the time before Web 2.0.

I call anything pre-97 the “Long Public Beta” phase of the Web. This stretches back to Tim Berners-Lee’s first demo version in 1990. Berners-Lee’s original vision for the World Wide Web was as a Semantic Web, in which all of the content on the Web was descriptively tagged and computer-processable. We’ve come a long way since then—both towards and away from the Semantic Web. It was during this phase that HTML, HTML extensions, CGI, JavaScript, and most of the Web-specific technologies still in use today were created. (note that I’m excluding Internet protocols such as TCP/IP and so forth, which were invented long before 1990).

I personally define Web 1.0 as the time between 1997 and late 2000. These were the years during which I had all of my stereotypical “dot-com” experiences (except without the stock options, IPO, and insane wealth). My wife and I were running our small Web development and programming firm in the San Francisco Bay Area and later Austin, TX, and we did a lot of work for a lot of soon-to-be failed start-ups. Here’s an actual email I received in early 2000 (it was a joke, but it’s an important artifact nonetheless):

I am working to integrate a B2B strategy that moves away from “bricks-n-clicks” and towards a homogenization of broadband interconnectivity. The site design is in beta stages and I need to redo the look and feel – I want to present allot of low lying fruit and allow people to drill deep for content. As a member of the new economy, the digital economy, generation E, etc…I am sure that you will agree with me – Content IS King.

During the period between 2000 and 2003, interesting things were happening, but unfortunately for that period, the only catchy marketing term being used to describe the Web at the time was a negative one–“dot-com bust”.

The term “Web 2.0” was coined by Tim O’Reilly in 2003 or so. Today, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how great Web 2.0 is, and the great things that are now possible with Web 2.0.

If you’ve been working with this stuff since the mid-90s, you know that the exact same protocols and languages are being used now as were being used during the dot-com era. The most significant recent events leading up to what we now call Web 2.0 actually had nothing to do with Google. They were JavaScript (1995), XML (1998), and the gradually increasing familiarity of Web developers with these and several other technologies. However, if you write a long manifesto packed with jargon and you have enough clout, suddenly the world is speaking your language.

Besides the core technologies, the single thing that’s remained the same throughout my entire Web experience is this: the marketing people always win. This is frustrating for fundamentally technical people like myself, because we so rarely understand what all the fuss is about.

This is my problem with Web 2.0. I have nothing against rich user-interfaces, community-created content, syndication, or large databases. I do have a problem with buzzwords being used as substitutes for substance and comprehension.

When someone asks me if it’s possible for me to build them a Wiki, a podcast, and a Blog, it takes me back to the low-lying fruit and information superhighway days of yore and I tell them “of course”, but I follow it with a reminder that creativity, passion, knowledge, and dedication to doing quality work haven’t been superseded in this version of the Web–and content is still king.