It was just a year ago that Tim O’Reilly was talking about Web 2.0 in terms of “collective consciousness” and “the potential of what it is to be human.” “The Internet today is so much an echo of what we were talking about at [New Age HQ] Esalen in the ’70s,” he told Steven Levy, “- except we didn’t know it would be technology-mediated.”
But O’Reilly has changed his tune. Now, on the eve of his latest Web 2.0 Conference, he admits that he views Web 2.0 not in millennialist terms but in purely mercantile ones – as just another way to make a buck. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that many people, “perhaps reacting to the greed that fueled the IPOs of the dot-com years, saw in Web 2.0 a chance to create a new collectivism.” But O’Reilly disagrees. “I don’t see it that way at all,” he says:
Web 2.0, he says, is about business. He says many tech movements start out with similar idealism, only to give way to capitalism. For instance, O’Reilly says, Napster introduced file sharing, but now iTunes has people comfortable with paying for music online. “You do a barn raising at a particular stage of society,” he said, “and then the developers come in … It always happens that way.”
He’s right, of course. But he puts it so coldly – “and then the developers come in” – that even I feel a little twinge of nostalgia for the old idealism, the old hippie dream. I feel like a yin without a yang.
By the way, O’Reilly just announced that he’s written an expanded version of his “What Is Web 2.0?” essay. It’s called “Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices.” You can buy a copy for $375.