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Why web 2.0 ended in 2008

So many people wrote about "what is web 2.0" over the past 4–5 years that it totally obscured any discussion about why is there something called web 2.0? And, it's necessary to revisit that particular why to appreciate why web 2.0 ended in 2008.

Although Tim O'Reilly's famous 2005 article on What Is Web 2.0 catalyzed the web-wide marketing of web 2.0, for me it catalyzed the end of my own idealization of the "new web" movement. So, in response to O'Reilly's article, I countered with my blog post about The era of web 2.Over. I felt like web 2.0 ended in 2005.

But, that was my way of sobering up to the reality that web 2.0 was no more about "a new call to action" than the dot com (web 1.0) was. And in any case, the buzz of web 2.0 did continue into 2008.

So, rewinding a bit: why was there something called web 2.0 in the first place?

The answer is simple: The Economy.

Specifically, the economic crash of the dot com (web 1.0) bubble in 2000 ended the one thing common to all of the "dot coms," which was an environment of funding born out economic enthusiasm for and/or hype about web companies.

Fast forward a few years to late-2003 / early 2004 (e.g., when Flickr launched), and there's a start of a new environment of funding, again born out of economic enthusiasm for and/or hype about web companies. Given the prior crash, it was a new era of funding—in this sense, it was accurately a "2.0" of money in the web.

From there, the hype machine of web 2.0 was remarkably like the one of the dot com. Business and marketing people spent a lot of time pontificating about the essential ingredients of success for web 2.0 companies. And, enthusiasts and academics who saw signs of cultural change imagined cause and effect between the latest website features and the cultural changes they wished for.

But, few tended to comment on the key relationship between the what and the why: it didn't matter as much what you were doing as a web 2.0 company as it did that you were doing it at the time and place where people were investing into startups.

Finally, fast forward to today, January 2009. Web 2.0 has just ended. Why?

The answer, again, is simple: The Economy.

One of the effects of the economic crash of 2008 is that the environment of funding for web startups is gone. New startups can't stand out from the crowd, and existing web 2.0 startups are running out of money and folding. It's a lot like the end of the dot com if you adjust the scale between the massive bubble of web 1.0 and the smaller bubble of web 2.0.

Technically, the dot com crash took about 2 years to play out. The stock market crashed in March 2000, but I wasn't totally out of dot com-related work until late 2001. And some of dot bombs lasted well into 2002.

So, we could look back over 2008 and try to find a specific date for the end of web 2.0. I think the best one is December 12, 2008—the day that Yahoo! laid-off George Oates from Flickr. Some reasons:

Flickr was the #1 example of a web 2.0 company. Yahoo's acquisition of Flickr and other web 2.0 startups was the most blatantly bubble-like activity of web 2.0. George Oates was the most prominent of the original Flickr team who hadn't yet left Yahoo! And, Yahoo! laid her off in a completely unceremonious and widely publicized manner.

So what? Will there be a web 3.0? What will happen next? What new companies will be successful?

There are plenty of new startups that are going to go forward, in spite of the end of web 2.0. Some of them are going to do great things. It's maybe going to be like 2003–2004 all over again, with talented people working on new things under the radar and/or releasing things that are well received but not widely hyped.

But then, at some point there'll be another period of enthusiasm and/or hype for web companies—maybe someone will even call it web 3.0. Why?

The answer, again, is simple: The Economy.

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