Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Web 2.0 Name Doesn’t Promote Understanding

Names are important. Which is why posted last week about the new PRSA Counselor’s Academy needing to change its name. It is also why I offered a comment to the For Immediate Release podcast #148 about the trouble I see with the Web 2.0 name. I thought I was offering just a little “something that makes you go Hmm.” I really didn’t expect much discussion to follow, but it did.

To summarize my comment: The labels 2.0, 3.0 and so on typically refer to application upgrades. But what folks mean when they use the term Web 2.0 is much more than that. And many people are confused by the name. While the term “social media” is insufficient, it at least provides a picture of this new thing.

There are actually two issues here. The first is that there is there is little agreement about what “Web 2.0” actually means. Some conversations on the blogosphere by folks who are “in the know” demonstrate this disagreement, like the O'Reilly blog and a list of several people’s definitions summarized by Richard MacManus. Wikipedia gives a decent, but wordy definition of Web 2.0.

I kind of like the “web as platform” definition. But rest assured, if you’re confused you are not the only one.

There is a loose knit group of people whose life revolves around technology. It’s the focus of their jobs and super-hobbies. They are the ones who test beta versions of applications and operating systems. They are the ones in measure their lives in the blog world in years rather than months. They are the ones who know all about what’s next, while the rest of us are trying to get a handle on what’s now. They are the “innovators.” And I strongly suspect they are the ones who came up with the name Web 2.0.

There are two rationales, I see, for how we name things:

1. Sometimes we chose a name that has meaning to us. George Jr. for example. My first dog’s name was Marvin Alfred Elis because those were the names of my parents’ groomsmen. The name itself has no meaning to people outside the family. It’s just a name.

2. Other times, when we have something new or complex that we want others to buy, use, adopt or advocate, we give it a descriptive or other name that has meaning to them. Shel and Neville have given us a good example of this point when they agree with others who suggest we quit trying to describe “RSS” and use the term “newsfeed” instead. The name “RSS” is a barrier because it is a teckie word.

That’s my point about Web 2.0. It’s a teckie term, and it is a barrier. It doesn’t help people understand what is meant by it. It probably wasn't meant to originally.

Shel and Neville did agree that they’d be happy to use a better label if someone could come up with one. It’s tough challenge. But it’s worth it because names are important and so is Web 2.0.

This sounds like a job for a professional communicator!

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