December 22, 2005

Web 2.0-athon

Stowe Boyd is conducting a poll on his blog that asks readers whether or not we should drop the term Web 2.0 from our conversational lexicon. Stowe used Quimble to create and share the poll -- that's fodder for another post entirely.

It's Thursday at 9:27 a.m., and the nos are leading the yeses 26 to 17.

We live exciting lives in these days of Web 2.0.

But you already know that. What I think I know is that there are several reasons why the Nos are ahead on Stowe's poll, not the least of which is that his readers are Web 2.0-friendly--maybe passionate is a better word. Another likely reason: Anyone doing anything on the net right now for profit does benefit (in the short-term at least) from the Web 2.0 moniker. It is a category to position brands around; it is a hook for competitive differentiation; it is an entire industry to invest in, and best of all it ushers in an entire new opportunity for cool schwag .

This is a new thing, this naming of an era as we rush headlong into it. "Dot-com" picked up its moniker somewhere in the middle of its lifecycle, when we used it to distinguish young quirky startups with company names that were URLs first, often beginning with "e," blessed by venture capitalists or at least angel investors, from the rest of us.

Do you remember the first meeting you were in when the youngest kid in the room said, "Everyone's dropping the 'e' now. We don't need the 'e' anymore."

I do.

Next, we broke the term down further, using "dot-com" to distinguish between businesses with no realworld infrastructures and those with physical infrastructures and real-world trappings (bricks and mortar), like HR departments. Soon after, HR became the most stressful job in the company, which fed the staffing industry boom as these new dot-commodities gave away new cars to get talented techies onboard. And soon after that, bricks-and-mortar companies began to differentiate themselves from one another by adding ecommerce capabilities (or at least building good websites) and doting over customers. They became "bricks-n-clicks."

My point is that every step of the way along that yellow brick road, we met -- as Dave Winer says -- carpetbagger marketing types looking to make money. Hell, most of us WERE them.

At the same time, the road was there and it was yellow. Which means it's not an either/or, black-or-white thing. You can drop the name, or we can watch it evolve as smart marketeers find points of differentiation within and outside of the Web 2.0 category to position and grow brands around and woo investment in.

It's a scenario replicating itself in thousands of different spaces at once - as with Blogging now, where Blogs as communication tool are being incorporated into social software solutions, along with other new media phenoms, like podcasting, videocasting, WIKIs, and so on.

Remember the debates about what blogging was or wasn't? Should we call it blogging or is it simply publishing? Is it the medium or is it the message? Is it journal or is it journalism?

To this day you won't see Shelley using the word "blog." It's "weblog." She took a semantic stand, God bless her.

Sooner, not later, though, individuals and businesses (which are becoming increasingly the same thing -- another characteristic of whatever we call this time period) will begin positioning and differentiating around Web 2.0 and its sub-categories, and what are little tiny insignificant spaces today will burgeon into billion-dollar industries. Forget sooner or later. Look at recent history. Look at photo sharing and Flickr. Flickr was an application that did all kinds of weird things growing out of the MMPOG space, then it became a service, then it became a category (photo sharing), and when you combine it with all of the pieces that go along with digital photography, badaboom you have an industry.

The interesting thing to veteran marketing folk is that it used to take hundreds of thousands, often millions, of marketing dollars and a year of work to create a category within an existing industry and position a given company as a leader, preferably 'the' leader. We advised clients against the approach. In fact, it was more cost-effective and and faster to pick an existing category and differentiate against either a week competitor, or a competitive weakness in the category leader.

Now entire industries take shape seemingly overnight.

It is, in a word, incredible.

What's more incredible is that the meeting I sat in with the first kid who said, "we can drop the 'e' now," was only six years ago.

All of this is a long way of saying Web 2.0 will take care of itself. There is no 'grand meeting' of minds or strategies on the net where we gather around a conference table and agree on messaging and positioning, on dropping the 'e' or not.

Leave it be. Position within it, or position outside of it (this is what Dave is doing). And either way, you might be right in the end.

There is no consensus, because you can't have the net and consensus.