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Web 2.0 or deja vu all over again?

Posted: 10.15.07
I was at dinner with some very interesting and urbane executive types in Boston recently. The subject of what's next/what's the latest trend/where's the money came up as it inevitably does. We were talking about Web 2.0 and how interesting it all was that MySpace had become so last 20 minutes ago in the space of uh, 30 minutes. Now it's all about Facebook said one of my dinner partners. Really? Why in the world should Facebook prevail where Friendster and MySpace have failed? Doesn't all this Web 2.0 stuff have the stench of doom wafting all around it? It's nice to think of building communities around a group of friends, but a lot of work goes into personal sites for questionable gain and building networks of strangers for the sake of adding huge numbers of names seems a pointless exercise (There's an interesting story in Wired News on this subject by the way: http://blog.wired.com/business/2007/10/getting-anti--s.html.). Think about it, are the people you know on LinkedIn more valuable because they have more links? A look through your lists will no doubt reveal that some of the most important people you know don't have all that many links -- they're too busy. What we have also discovered the very hard way is the dark side of community. We probably all have some kid friends or relatives who have utterly appalling MySpace sites where they've revealed information no one wants to know, have indulged in public spats, and posted party pics that make Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan look like sober citizens. And there are just about as many ugly stories about bullying and stalking as there are stories in the Naked City. So, there will definitely be new sites coming along that are cooler than the last ones and there'll be new twists on the community model to make it appeal to specific niches but none of this is all that new. From the day there was an Internet there were grumpy math professors sending flames that criticized each other for dicey science or poor word choices. There were public bulletin boards where trolls roamed free spewing hatred and vitriol because they had nothing better to do. The mediums may have changed but humans seem to stay pretty much the same. This is not to say there's no point in innovating or building on the interesting applications that are appearing. Each new iteration of an idea is generally better. For example, it's much better to interact with each other by trading picture, videos, and music. Many real friendships have formed thanks to better and more varied ways to communicate. And I have reconnected with lost friends via LinkedIn. That one thing alone helps justify the pointless adding of connections and friends. I can't wait to see what comes next but I'm not quite ready to bet on what's happening now.