Web 2.0 and the Emperor’s New Clothes?

This is a Blog post written by Robb Bush on JUNE 3, 2010 that has long since disappeared from the internet.

Can someone explain why/how the various “Web 2.0” thingamajigs actually HELP business productivity?

I think they are neat-o, of course. I like things like Facebook and LinkedIn. Sometimes. But I can’t say they make me more productive or effective in my real everyday work. This is at least in comparison to what my expectations for what business productivity software and networked applications were supposed to do.

Is it the next Photoshop? The next Excel? The next advanced Planning and Optimization tool? I say emphatically no.

Almost all of these wonderful “Web 2.0 innovations” generate an explosion of content fragments that may – or may not – contribute to “useful knowledge”. Much of it is “in the now” – and eventually disappears or becomes buried.

Heres what I see:

  • Increased fragmentation of knowledge
  • Further challenge to already incredibly short attention spans (you want executives to use this?)
  • Reduction of meaningful conversation/ideas into soundbytes (particularly challenging when multilingual)
  • Over-reliance on text messaging / human-interpretation without process-support (eg Take a look at this… What do you think of… Heres an action item…)

Weren’t computers and software supposed to make us smarter, to bring us information, and not just inspire us to poke-around and click at disconnected messages?

The over reliance on linear text-messaging, rating things up/down, “likes”, the generation of excessive random tasks and discussions, and the capture and “trapping” of digital assets (more PPTs!) – seem to be further “dumbing things down” for everyone.

However, it provides the illusion that “things are happening”. That must be good right?

I consider this phenomenon in our industry another example of “the generation of artificial complexity that contributes to an illusion of productivity“.

More eyeballs, attention, and excitement are a good thing for Start-Ups selling shiny-objects to VCs and more Advertising to consumers…

But, is it REALLY good for the enterprise?

I have been tinkering with all of this for a long time, and often have been a strong evangelist from the earliest days of Web 0.1. But, the way things are going seem to be quite a step backward with over emphasis on copy-cat patterns from the recent crop of browser-based web applications. They may be fun to play with for a while, but may not equal more productivity or quantifiable business benefit.

Are we going to let the future of software get hijacked with brittle, non-scalable applications that place too much emphasis on linear discussion and voting trails?

Why not just consider the real benefit of Web 2.0 – which I consider the ‘people-connection’ – as a “add-on” or extension embedded into what Business Productivity Software already does (or is supposed to do). It should not be the “center” of a person’s activity, IMO.

Maybe some intelligence can be brought to all of these systems and provide some semantic matching and perhaps sensemaking. But, to do that – it will NOT be in a flat-browser paradigm, nor will you be endlessly clicking and poking around and reading little text fragments.

And, I don’t think we will call it Web 3.0/4.0… it should be a more “Disappearing Computer” that does not require our reliance on being glued to a web screen 24×7 tracking a multitude of disparate ‘inboxes’ and fragments.

Now that would be the real emerging technology.

Robb Bush
June 3, 2010