John Cook blogged earlier today on the beginnings of a Web 2.0 backlash, in which some venture capitalists grumbled that Web 2.0 is a sham.
We saw the same phenomenon in the 1990′s, in which every dumb idea in software was redeemed by its use of Java. In 1996, Kleiner Perkins started a $100 million Java fund that was a flop even though Java has been quite successful. By the same measure, Web 2.0 will probably fail as an investment thesis even as the technology changes the way we build every Web application.
The reason Web 2.0 will fail as an investment thesis is that it isn’t a thesis at all: the idea behind a new venture is always the customer problem it’s trying to solve, not the tools it uses to solve those problems. But that’s not Web 2.0’s fault.
Perhaps Web 2.0 technologies, and MySpace’s success in particular, have encouraged us to build hit-driven applications in which fickle teenagers chatter to no effect, but come on: Google’s map face-crushes MapQuest, Flickr has made Shutterfly obsolete, Wikipedia is already indispensable.
The best test of a technology’s importance is whether there’s any going back, or if instead we’ll one day slink away from it, embarrassed that we ever thought it was cool. Ten years from now, it seems indisputable that Web applications will act more, not less, like desktop clients, and that these applications will become more powerful as a result of their socialization with human beings (user-tagged photos, most-viewed property listings, user-contributed videos).
It is this last trait, of openness to a larger community and the unpredictability that it engenders, which seems to gall Web 2.0′s discontents at a visceral level. But as John Keats once said”negative capability” — the openness to prolonged “doubt and uncertainty” before creating something beautiful — is a poet’s most important trait.
The poetics of Web 2.0 aside, it’s often a better way to build a mouse trap, but what’s most important are the mice and the cheese.