We tend to forget that 'There's nothing new, except that there's nothing new.' Most especially we tend to forget that human beings have been processing new experiences in terms of old ones for millennia. Permit me to give you an example...
Many commentators, analysts, executives, and software developers so far this year - as I write we are past midsummer's day, so the period I am thinking of is now just over half a year long - have been processing the arrival of what has been dubbed "Web 2.0" with sage prudence born of having seen Web 2.0's bubble-like characteristics once before, with Web 1.0...and having gotten burned. That the VC community is showing no such prudence, to these people, is evidence enough of recidivism. Old ways die hard, especially old ways that at one point enriched an entire galaxy of talented individuals, go-for-it angels, risk-savvy institutions, and even massive hedge funds beyond their wildest dreams.
Clearly, then, it has to be Deja Vu All Over Again? And indeed, this time round, the bubble looked like it was swelling up so fast that people immediately have begun standing in line to burst it pre-emptively and save it from ending in tears a second time. Already by January 16, for example, the highly articulate and thoughtful Web designer-cum-thought leader Jeffrey Zeldman had already written and article bemoaning the motivation behind the coiners of "Web 2.0" as disingenuous at best and downright scurrilous at worst. His solution? Boycott the term entirely and leapfrog straight over the O'Reilly lobby's neologism...into "Web 3.0."
But here's the thing. What I shall term the "Web 2.0 Terminology Debate" is - just as Zeldman suggests - a huge diversion. (Whether it is a delberate misdirection I doubt; so I would beg to differ with him on that particular point.) But it is not a diversion from the metriciousness of the new Web: on the contrary, it is a diversion from its awesome and disruptive power, and from its quite bewildering, almost terminal velocity.
Forgive the emphasis. I dont mean to insult your intelligence, and mean nothing by it save a desire to let there be not one susurrus of a soubt as to what I am saying here. I am contending nothing less than that today, if you open your mind to it anyway, is the beginning of the rest of your life. Not just your Web life, but your life per se. For what Tim O'Reilly and the conference die-hards that cluster around him are in danger of blinding everyone to is that the primary characteristic of Web 2.0 is not that it is undergirded by RSS or OPML or AJAX but that it is a precursor of "Life 2.0" - and that is a much. much bigger deal.
You may wish to apply a discount factor to what you read in this blog, knowing that Internet technologies are where i have parked my head, my heart, and my entire livelihood and therefore I may be counted upon to favor a techno-oriented view of life. Or you may wish to apply a discount factor because, never mind i-Technology commentators like Jeremy Geelan and never mind i-Technologists like Dave Winer, Tim Bray, Adam Bosworth et al, all would-be discoverers are prone to over-praise what is new. (It is said that the first men to visit America believed that they had accidentally found Paradise, a second Garden of Eden. In the narrative of his third voyage, for example, Christopher Columbus wrote: 'For I believe that the earthly Paradise lies here,' and fifty years later the French essayist Michel de Montaigne was even more effusive: "In my opinion what we actually see in these nations "surpasses all the pictures which the poets have drawn of the Golden Age...")
But discount or no discount, you will not prevent my writing and speaking...and above all doing...on the premiss that 2006 has indeed seen the arrival of a new "Golden World," the world of Flickr and Basecamp, of Pandora and script.aculo.us - and that is before you even start to look at the "still, small voice" of socially innovative start-ups that are mushrooming all over the Web and won't hit the radar screens of most of us till 2007...unless of course Google gets there first and releases them tomorrow, which no one should ever rule out! ;-)
Those involved in such vanguard activities are, by definition, futurists. They are activists whose mind, body, and soul sometimes is committed to what I call "Futures Doing." It is a concept I first pioneered 16 years ago, since it occured to me that one sure way to bring about a better 21st century was to use the final decade of the 20th century to help make sure that it was better by doing something towards it, right then and there. ("Lead-in time" being a powerful concept that any journalist knows in his bone marrow is essential.)
If "Futures Doing" seems too abstruse too you, too Geelanesque, then think instead of a social activist like Ghandi, whose quiet philosophy undergirded social change on a massive scale, and who taught people to be the change they seek, a principle that to this day flourishes in grassroots online/offline communities such as the one presently under the stewardship of Sir John Whitmore, Christopher Cooke, Nick-Hart Williams, and others.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world," Ghandi wrote. But, just in case that doesn't resonate with you sufficiently, or sounds too existential, let me put it another way: the best way to bring about a better future is to help invent it. He who rejects change, they say, is the architect of decay - since the only human institution that rejects progress is the cemetery. Seek instead to be the architect of change, and when better than now to architect a better world, intermediated by a better Web?
That, in my view, is the power of this "AJAX Moment," this "Web 2.0" window of opportunity. For you, for me, for him over there, for us all. A billion people online may be five billion too few, or it may be a billion too many, but it is what we have to work with at present. Those who prefer Futures Doing to Futures Talking (or even Futures Writing) need to look no further than to their nearest Web browser, since as the Web itself becomes an application platform, the hundreds, thousands, and possibly millions of point of light that are individually shining somewhere "out there" will gradually find their place-to-stand.
This won't necessarily happen slowly, but most likely it will happen gradually as we are talking here of a more Universal Web that embraces far more tiers of human activity than it does as yet, and adoption rates of transformational technologies are always considerably slower than those that offer incremental improvements.
So, architects everywhere (and we are all architects of the future now), let's be having you. None of us is as smart as all of us, and co-creativity/co-intelligence/co-discovery is the name of the new game. Come on in, the Web 2.0 water's fine.