Well, we can’t very well ignore Web 2.0, can we?
The term alone – along with Enterprise 2.0, whatever that is – can be infuriatingly stupid.
So it was that a friend spied me reading Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0 and asked “Don’t you know we’re already on to Web 3.0?”
My sentiments exactly. People have beaten their heads senseless trying to define this silly term. BusinessWeek reporter Sarah Lacy, who covers Silicon Valley and wrote the new book, has almost managed it. It only took about 284 pages.
Essentially a wrap-up of her reporting over the last few years, Once focuses on the current winners in the Valley. Max Levchin of PayPal and Slide. Marc Andreessen of Netscape and now Ning. Kevin Rose of Digg. And, of course, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.
The sometimes-too-fawning book portrays all these men as dreamers, not capitalists. They all want to be paid, of course, but in Lacy’s telling, the product comes first.
Rose comes off as the most down to earth. Not a particularly talented programmer, he had a good idea, watched it grow and appears ready to get out from under it.
But it is Zuckerberg who is worth studying up on. Intriguing to begin with (invented Facebook at 19, dropped out of Harvard University, doesn’t do parties, a shy egomaniac), his grand scheme for Facebook might actually mean huge things. Might.
The story is, and this isn’t really news, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the new platform. Forget using Google or email or any sort of news site as your homepage. Zuckerberg wants you to load your browser to Facebook and get everywhere else from there. Digg, Slide, Yelp, they’re all great ideas. But Facebook wants to fold all those ideas inside its basic blue-and-white homepage. The big score, of course, would be co-opting business networking site LinkedIn. If Zuckerberg can pull that off, it’s all over. Use Facebook or fall behind. If he can pull it off.
I have a litmus test on these things: I grew up in a small, upstate New York town. You wouldn’t describe it as backward and it is middle-class enough that I can find the odd high school graduate in most parts of the country. But we didn’t ship to the Ivy League. We didn’t send off computer programmers. And a lot of us never left.
So where are my hometown brethren? Until a few month ago, MySpace, if anywhere. While the rest of the world freaks about Facebook, these people are just getting into it (Myself included. I’ve had an account for over a year, but just started using it in February).
I don’t really see Yelp as a force back home. We’re talking about a social group that doesn’t kill itself looking for new dinner spots. And Digg doesn’t stand a chance in hell with them. With me, either. I’ve tried. Just can’t get into it.
But if Facebook breaks open there, than I’ll admit that Zuckerberg may have built something big. I’m thinking of one friend in particular. The day he sends me a friend request is the day I call Facebook the most important company of this decade.
More simply: If my best friend joins Facebook, then it will probably be relevant enough that it will affect the business and IT worlds in significant ways over the next five or six years. I’m not Mark Zuckerberg, so I can’t tell you how. But it will.
The rest of ‘em? Probably all fads, incremental innovations that are brilliant in their own right, but will only serve to feed into the big players.
Lacy loves the men she writes about here (there is one woman, Mena Trott of Six Apart), but for the most part she holds back just enough to let the reader make his way through the book.
Until the end. We find ourselves at a July 4 “party” in San Francisco, where the whose who of Web 2.0 dine on “four-star Ozumo Sushi” and are waited on by a “full staff.”
“If anything it was understated,” Lacy writes. This is a place “where people who’d be misfits anywhere else feel at home” and “why the Valley will always be the Valley.”
No, Sarah, they aren’t misfits. They are hard-working, they are intelligent. And they seem generally an ethical bunch. They’re that. And one of them – Zuckerberg, who skipped said party – just might change the world. But they aren’t misfits. Remember, this is Web 2.0. The definition is up in the air, but one thing’s for sure: It’s about us, not them.