Web 2.0 gets the glossy magazine treatment

The Guardian’s Weekend magazine has discovered Web 2.0 and features a number of the hot companies in the area, most of which are old-hat to aficionados of the space (Wikipedia, Flickr, etc). However, it’s nice to see the UK’s Last.FM featured in a largely US-focused piece.

There are various interviews worth checking out, where people get to answer: What is Web 2.0? What is your big idea? What is the next big thing online? The main accompanying piece starts off enthusiastically enough:

The second internet goldrush is in full swing, and this time it’s all about real people, creating, editing and showcasing their own lives and opinions. John Lanchester gets to grips with the virtual universe and Guardian writers interview the smartest and the luckiest entrepreneurs who demolished the old internet and built a brand new one

Later on it gets a little more specific:

The shorthand term for what is happening now is “Web 2.0”, a designation coined at a conference in 2004 by the web-business booster Tim O’Reilly, as describing “an attitude rather than a technology”. The phrase is a shorthand for the second internet gold rush, to follow the one that ended in 2000 with arguably the biggest destruction of investors’ capital in history. From the business point of view, the defining feature of this new goldrush is that established companies are throwing huge amounts of money at upstarts who have three things in common: they have grown from nowhere with astonishing speed; they have no revenue stream to speak of; and most of their content is provided by their users. Thus we have Murdoch’s buy of MySpace in July 2005, Yahoo’s of Flickr in March 2005 and its rumoured to be imminent buy of Facebook for around $1bn, and – in money terms the biggest of them all – Google’s $1.6bn acquisition of YouTube on October 9. That’s a great deal of money raining down on some happy, happy nerds. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen only founded YouTube in February 2005. Their creation has grown in value at a rate of more than $100m a month – which must surely be a world record. That’s a hell of a lot of money to be earned by the founders of a company with no earnings.

Obviously the article is now admitting that the ‘goldrush’ may actually be over given that all those deals were last year, but hey, who’s counting…

The writer then starts to sound like he’s discovered the Internet for the first time, and is bemused to find people doing all sorts of things with social networking. Wow. The final paragraph does rather sound like he’s run out of things to say and, since this is print, is padding it out to the last column for all he’s worth:

Everybody sitting at a computer screen is at the centre of the world. Everybody sitting at a computer screen, increasingly, wants everything to be all about them. This is our first glimpse of what people who grow up with the net will want from the net. One of the cleverest things about MySpace is the name.

It’s somewhat ironic then that this piece came out only two days after a San Francisco Chronicle article titled: “Social sites becoming too much of a good thing: Many young folks burning out on online sharing”

Here’s a quote:

Aarica Caro is sick of sharing. That is, sharing online. She has shared the lives of her cats. She has shared a list of her favorite television shows and movies (“Grey’s Anatomy,” chick flicks). She has shared her reviews of Bay Area haunts (two stars for the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Jose, five stars for the Starbucks in Morgan Hill). And she has been invited to share some more.

What can I say? It’s perhaps unfair to overly criticise a mainstream magazine piece about the structural changes going on in the way we build and operate online services and communities. But there is the perennial question here – now that Web 2.0 is becoming recognised by the mainstream, does that mean the so-called goldrush is over? Well, of course the simple answer is that it is not the goldrush of Web 1.0 anyway. And many of the attitudes and techniques of Web 2.0 are likely to become the mainstream anyway. Still, it’s interesting that a glossy newspaper magazine has decided to put all this on the mainstream map in the UK.