Bruce Sterling on Web 2.0


32 Responses to “Bruce Sterling on Web 2.0”

  1. mrgaric says:

    A lot less B.S. would be nice…
    This guy is spewing metaphors on top of metaphors.

    I do see the parallel to banking though. All of these web gurus are just making stuff up when they should be doing their jobs. They should skip the acronyms and quit inventing words.

  2. felixjawesome says:

    @1 Making internets is a business and requires big moneys. Internets has been compromised by Capitalist fat-cats.

    Remember when you thought “These tubes go on forever. There is so much internet out there…I could surf for an entirely lifetime and never see the same thing twice.”

    Well, turns out that’s not true. There is only a finite amount of internet out there..and because of the “phenomenon” of “social networking,” everyone and their mom is trying to travel the tubes.

    The internet is crowded and their isn’t enough internet to go around.

    This is what happens when you let Capitalists take charge of everything…suddenly “EVERYTHING” is a commodity.

  3. hohum says:

    Agree with #1 – it seems like he sets the foundation for this argument with some semantic nitpicking, when it would be so much more powerful if he’d just cut to the chase. It’s a good point that ‘Web 2.0′ is much more business-focused and they just stick on these cute ‘cloud’ terms to make it seem friendly and charming.

    I do think that ‘Web 2.0 killed the information superhighway’ is a bit extreme, when you have successful projects like Wikipedia leveraging the idea of the ‘semantic web’ to spread around information. I feel like even with the new trends in Web 2.0, we still have more information and easier access to that information than we did in the era of the information superhighway metaphor.

  4. ridl says:

    When he talked about cloud platforms did anybody else get the urge to play Mario?

  5. hegemonicon says:

    The more I think about it the more apt the comparison between the web and the financial system is.

    The web is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. But its proven to be such a goddamn useful tool that we’re using it more and more, and discarding our previous tools. We’re replacing bookstores with amazon, mail with email, tv with hulu etc. because this new tool is so GOOD. But in our excitement about it, we haven’t stopped to consider some of the drawbacks or limitations it might have.

    Likewise, the financial system was built on new tools of statistical analysis. These tools were so GOOD and allowed so much money to be made that we didn’t stop to consider the drawbacks or limitations of them. And it turns out there are some pretty severe drawbacks and limitations. They’re so severe in fact, that they’re currently destroying the entire financial system.

    Total reliance on something without considering the drawbacks is a recipe for disaster, and its certainly possible that our use of the web is taking us down that road.

  6. baconner says:

    You know I hung in there for a while because I’ve always enjoyed Bruce Sterling’s writing but wow. I just couldn’t handle this one.

    I don’t think the “misreporting” was because the kiwis couldn’t handle his accent. wtf was he talking about?

  7. Teller says:

    #9 Takuan. Exactly. Can you imagine life without a single operating 7-11 cash register?

  8. Marcel says:

    That has always been the business beef with the Internet, hasn’t it?! Just how the Hell are we gonna be able to milk the cows?
    No matter what type of service you provide, it always seems there’s another way available that’s cheaper, easier, or free.
    It’s the flip-side of reachability. The cows appear to have tentacles as long as your own.
    So you have no choice but to charm them into not using their tentacles. Woe them into submission by making things as easy for them as possible. Apps. Widgets. Portals.
    Tie them to you appearing to be unobtrusive. Only trying to be the obvious choice.
    But working to destroy any other option nonetheless.

    Business, as usual.

  9. Anonymous says:

    he’s saying that the 2.0 model sees various services relying on other 2.0 services in order to function. so what happens when 2.0 services start dropping like flies? it breaks the whole 2.0 web.

  10. Kieran O'Neill says:

    “What’s this guys job title anyhow….”Speculation Engineer”?”


    (Oh, you were being serious … he’s a science fiction author. I think “speculation engineer” is about as good a synonym for that as any.)

  11. Philbo says:

    Great article, which leads me even further into thinking Web 2.0 has been some kind of elaborate conspiracy theory.

    Sometimes I think Web 2.0 is the advent of BS Artistry 2.0, where many claiming to be experts, neither to IQ (Necessary to be a really good BS artist), nor the expertise to convince some of the people some of the time.

    I remember when we started down this path, great innovations and ideas floated around like wispy clouds everywhere, and many of us were entranced by the possibilities. Arrington to Scoble and on down to me and a parade of other enthusiasts, lauded the technology that would set this whole thing free.

    Now here we are. The BS is stacked so high no one believes anyone and more. Marketing has taken over and social media is just salesmen selling to other salesmen. Meanwhile, back at the ranch,the sum of all our visions about 3D worlds and collaboration amounts to barfing out goo goo da da on Twitter.

    Web 2.0, like other economies, is built on air. 1000 startups in a race to get initial or next round funding so the founders can parade around the world being even better “experts”, with someone else’s money. We got funding today, the party starts tonight!

    Sorry, I just spent several thousand hours helping technology and people, only to find we need “experts” to teach seminars about social media….people still cannot read I guess.

    I love the “speculation engineer” tag very much. I think the “Dr. Of Speculation” degree should go to our founding father –


  12. Moriarty says:

    Why would that make you want to “go to the barricades?” Because people are making money? Says the owner of a self-sustaining blog? Of *course* the internet is built on business. It’s thrived on a frenzy of investment, and the first bubble burst because too many people weren’t thinking enough about the bottom line, passing the buck (so to speak) indefinitely. Or am I misunderstanding, and is that the point?

  13. imajication says:

    I got a few paragraphs in and then gave up. Sounds like something created by a cross-discipline content free lecture generator.

  14. Takuan says:

    what’s the current wisdom on the actual economic/social effect of a High Altitude Nuclear Explosion over say the Eastern Seaboard of North America?

  15. ridl says:


  16. Jeff says:

    I know from reading Sterling’s stuff that he thinks web, net, cloud 2.0 needs a lot of hardening. For the most part everything he says about the current web’s vulnerablility makes good sense to me.

  17. DaveLaFontaine says:

    The cows appear to have tentacles as long as your own.
    So you have no choice but to charm them into not using their tentacles.

    If you can charm the cows into not using their tentacles, please pass that knowledge along to the good folks bedeviled by the mischievous octopus at the aquarium in the post below. They would be intrigued by your methods, and would probably wish to subscribe to your newsletter, etc. etc.

    Meanwhile, tentacled cows are now in the mental rackspace as a shorthand image to represent an entire industry, joining blogger Casey Serin; the cows for Web 2.0, Serin for banking meltdown & subprime fraud.

  18. Kenny Mann says:


    …And that’s absolutely the way of the world… nothing any critic can do about it. People do make mistakes, they interpret things wrongly — but more to the point, they DELIBERATELY make mistakes in creative work.

    Creative people don’t want to “do it right.” They want to share the excitement you had when you yourself didn’t know how to do it right. Creative people are unconsciously attracted by the parts that make no sense.

    Please, let’s not let contentions here over these delusional economics get in the way of that. Whatever is healthy and sustainable for getting things wrong a lot of the time is preferable to any “sure-fire” profitability scheme, however technically rationalized/rerationalized. We need to give Bruce a break from having to tick off lists of disasters so that he has more time for blogging up entertaining and fortuitous flaws and happy cognitive dissonance.

  19. Cowicide says:

    Websites are electronic flyers that get people to do shit. Flyers 2.0

  20. mcpusc says:

    “How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?” Kivistik said. This profundity was received with thoughtful nodding around the table.

    Jon shifted in his chair as if Kivistik had just dropped an ice cube down his collar. “What does that mean?” he asked. “You don’t have to bulldoze anything. There’s nothing to bulldoze.”

    “Very well, let me put it this way,” Kivistik said magnanisnously — he was not above dumbing down his material for the likes of Jon. “How many on-ramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway?”

    The words came out of Randy’s mouth before he had time to think better of it. “The Information Superhighway is just a fucking metaphor! Give me a break!” he said.

    —Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

  21. mrgaric says:

    Remember Y2K?

    People getting screwing so many people by convincing them they were so clever and should be trusted. And then when Y2K passed uneventfully and everyone’s paychecks shrank just a little because these jerks had ruined our good faith.
    (I know not all of Y2K was B.S., but most was)

    Well…here we go again….Web 1.0, Web 2.0 etc.

    Let’s just do an honest days work for an honest days pay and stop with the flowery, super smart guy talk. It hurts those of us who really do real good quality work. For us it’s like turning our backs to let the slack employee steal from the cash register.

    What’s this guys job title anyhow….”Speculation Engineer”?

  22. noen says:

    There is a fundamental antagonism between intellectual property (what the internet deals with for the most part) and Capitalism. I would expect Teh Intertubes to go through the same boom and bust cycles that finance has, and for about the same reasons.

  23. Daemon says:

    Hmm. First time I’ve ever heard of search engines described as web2.0

  24. key says:

    I don’t get it. Is this guy mocking or extolling Web 2.0? I have a feeling he’s praising it, because usually whenever people praise Web 2.0, they use a hell of a lot of words, but make the issue murkier, not clearer.

    I think “cloud” is the absolute right word for this stuff, because there is an impenetrable fog surrounding the answer to the question, “Well what IS Web 2.0?”

    If it takes someone ten minutes to answer that — which, I think, is the average length of the explanations I’ve read or heard — then it begins to seem like they’re just blowing smoke up our asses.

    Smoke …. there’s that cloud analogy again.

  25. Kenny Mann says:

    @I would expect Teh Intertubes to go through the same boom and bust cycles that finance has, and for about the same reasons.

    Gladly, with the expectation that there would be way less human tragedy along the way.

  26. aldous says:

    Bless you, Bruce, my all time favorite pisser on parades led by idiotically grinning, buck naked emperors. And Web 2.0 was – yes, was – exactly that.

  27. eustace says:

    This soothes my collapse anxiety; quite like the Clay Shirky book, Here Comes Everybody, which I finally finished. I suppose I’ll just keep grinning until the ‘net backbone fails for lack of power…

  28. LeavingHalfway says:

    @ #29 … wasn’t that Moore’s Utopia?

  29. Anonymous says:

    I noticed a lot of people didn’t read the end of the actual blog. He said that he was anticipating the new web architecture that is based on cultural principals not financial ones.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I was lovin’ this, until he (repeatedly) attributed JavaScript to Sun.

    JavaScript has nothing to do with Sun, or Java for that matter… JavaScript was originally “LiveScript” and was created by Brendan Eich at Netscape. It was later renamed “JavaScript” for marketing purposes…

  31. nepley says:

    Sterling’s argument about Web 2.0 takes up a number of themes common in academic cultural studies work on contemporary technologies, from his critique of Web 2.0’s “reification,” to his skepticism about “neoliberalism” and “technological determinism” in Web 2.0 discourse, to his ambivalence about the whole subject, admiring of, bemused with, and a little disgusted by it all at the same time. Sterling eschews academic jargon (that too often infests my own writing) and crafts some of the most insightful, complex, and inspiring analysis of Web 2.0 I have encountered. I am not sure if we’ll find barricades this time, but I love Sterling’s call to begin the counter-hegemonic–um, let’s make that activist and ultimately un-marketable work that needs doing.

  32. Stephen says:

    His contention that interactive web services (which he calls Web 2.0 because it’s a hip buzz word) are a house of cards based on fragile interdependencies is pure hokum.

    The claim that search engines are Web 2.0 is… dumb. Search engines have been around for a long, long time.

    This all sounds like the ravings of someone who never heard of Usenet.


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