Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and Beyond: Villainous Version Numbers

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Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and Beyond: Villainous Version Numbers


Just as I had come to accept the fact that Web 2.0 is an ambiguous term I am already hearing mention of Web 3.0.  In the context I have seen it so far, Web 3.0 is being used to refer to “Web 2.0 in the enterprise”.  As a side note, it would seem that an enterprise implementation of Web 2.0 concepts would be more aptly named “W2EE” (i.e. Web 2.0 Enterprise Edition), instead of increasing the version number.  This approach seemed to work for the Java guys for a while with J2EE.  But I digress.

First off, let’s take a look at things that we used version numbers for (before the practice of starting to add version numbers to concepts):
  1. Products:  Examples would include Windows 3.1or Oracle 10g

  1. Platforms:  Similar to the above, but examples might include .Net 2.0

  1. Standards:  Such as SQL92 or DOM1

  1. Documents:  More of an internal thing, but you could have “Version 3 of our standard sales agreement”.

You will find a common pattern in almost all prior uses of a version number.  Version numbers are generally a “short-hand” to describe something that is reasonably well delineated and distinct.  Oracle 8i represents some combination of things which is different from Oracle 10g.  Makes a fair amount of sense.  By labeling something with a version number we indicate that we have frozen it in time (to some degree) and decided to call it something.  As a community, we have found this useful.  It helps to talk about things that are changing in terms of discrete instances with a label.  No big surprises here.

Now, when we start looking at Web 2.0 (and now Web 3.0, Web 3.1 and related terms), things get a lot trickier.  Since Web 2.0 (where the madness started) is really just a set of concepts and broad technologies, things start to get difficult.  Now, one can argue that a label is a label is a label and there’s no reason to get upset because this particular label (Web 2.0) just happens to look like a version number.  But, I think some amount of semantic discipline is beneficial. 

Web 2.0 seems “villainous” to me for a number of reasons:
  1. Ambiguous:  If I told you a company or product was “Web 2.0” this may or may not mean anything to you (and likely means something different to different people).

  1. Misleading Granularity:  The fact that it’s two point zero (i.e. 2.0) seems to indicate a degree of specificity that is just not there.  It’s not just “Web2”, it’s Web two-point-oh.  This invites “incremental upgrades” like Web 2.1, Web 2.5, etc.

  1. Cascading Effect:  Now that we have come to accept attaching meaningless version numbers to amorphous concepts is ok, we are starting to use it all over the place.  In many cases, this is tongue-in-cheek (like my use of “Hindsight 2.0” in a prior article), but in some cases, people are actually expecting to convey something.  I’m also guilty of using (if not coining) the term “Small Business 2.0, our sister internet marketing blog”)

I think this whole “versioning of concepts” thing is going to be something we look back on with amusement in the years to come.  Similar to how we believed attaching “.com” to a company name somehow made it worth more back in the 1990s.  

Note:  This article is compatible with Web 3.0 and backward compatible with all versions back to and including Web 2.1, though attempting to read it with software on Web 2.0 may cause unanticipated behavior.  You are entitled to a free upgrade of the article for all 3.x “point” releases, but I reserve the right to charge an upgrade fee for Web 4.0 and beyond.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Sep 27, 2006


Thanks for this funny post :) I had a good time reading it (and some laughters).
But you miss a thing. I worked for a ".com" company just when the bubble exploded, and then our marketing guys removed the ".com" from the name, as they considered that it gave a bad impression. The ".com" turned from a distinction and success suffix into a sign of of economic disease.
I still have to wait, but I don't discard that the same will apply to the "Web 2.0".

posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 12:27 PM by Narciso Cerezo

The biggest irony is that this transition to web-based apps reflects the end of version numbers in software! You don't need to install Gmail 2.0... they just add features incrementally, and you reload your browser to "upgrade."

But who really cares about the words. I mean, look at all the other brilliant labels society has settled upon, to refer to hugely transformational technologies: "Podcast." "Wiki." "Blog." =P

posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 9:54 PM by Altay


I've got a topic I want to hear your thoughts on: 'Contained' membership Vs. Open Membership with regard to web start-ups. Facebook and Wallop both only allow select people into their worlds (or at least started that way) and I believe that's given them the element of mystery compared with startups that allow anyone in (pretty much all of them). Can you think of any other advantages a 'contained' vs. 'open' membership might have?

posted on Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 9:41 AM by Chris G

Re: Contained Vs. Open Membership per Your Request

First a caveat... I'm an ancient (increasingly fit) guy with limited knowledge in the technological world.

It appears on the face of things that the decisions regarding Contained Vs. Open Memberships might be based on one of two very different bits of strategy:

[1] Contained might work better when start-ups want to get specific feedback from knowledgable users such that they can refine their offering and get the bigger bugs out before going out to the world. If the decision is merely based on "exclusive" then it would have a less likely chance of succeeding.

[2] Open membership (Beta stage) is a gutsy move, especially if things are not fully thought out and buggy. This approach ought to gather larger and more varied feedback. The question is whether the start-ups have the inclination and ability to respond to the (valid) feedback. If not, the initial negative (public) impression might kill the venture as it is difficult to correct a bad rep.

In my view there are two larger considerations: [1] Does the start-up venture fulfill a need? [2] How does the start-up create audience "critical mass".

In terms of historical experience relative to Contained Vs. Open... What did YouTube do? How about Google?

posted on Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 7:02 PM by Sheamus


posted on Friday, September 29, 2006 at 1:37 AM by sean

Great post! I think there is one other thing that is getting missed on Web 2.0/3.0 etc. Typically when version numbers increase, things get better. I have been on the Internet for 15 years now and honestly across the board I can not honestly say that things have gotten better. With that I mean things are easier, quicker to find, user friendly etc. Searches are more bloated, pages are crowded, interfaces lock up, page navigation is well an after thought mostly. Aside from the fact that there are more things online these days, to me it seems the desire for developers to jump on the latest technology bandwagon to justify there cost, "old" technologies get left behind which actually might even have been better. Case-in-point. This comment box only shows 6 lines of text, about 7-8 words across, not really convenient for someone to read and proofread there comment.

posted on Friday, May 09, 2008 at 5:54 PM by Percy

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