Bruce Sterling on Web 2.0

Bruce Sterling's Webstock talk on Web 2.0 has a whole crapload of incredibly insightful stuff in it, and ends on a note that makes me want to go to the barricades:

That's the key Web 2.0 insight: "the web as a platform."

Okay, "webs" are not "platforms." I know you're used to that idea after five years, but consider taking the word "web" out, and using the newer sexy term, "cloud." "The cloud as platform." That is insanely great. Right? You can't build a "platform" on a "cloud!" That is a wildly mixed metaphor! A cloud is insubstantial, while a platform is a solid foundation! The platform falls through the cloud and is smashed to earth like a plummeting stock price!

Imagine that this was financial thinking — instead of web design thinking. We take a bunch of loans, we mash them together and turn them into a security. Now securities are secure, right? They are triple-A solid! So now we can build more loans on top of those securities. Ingenious! This means the price of credit trends to zero, so the user base expands radically, so everybody can have credit!
Nobody could have tried that before, because that sounds like a magic Ponzi scheme. But luckily, we have computers in banking now. That means Moore's law is gonna save us! Instead of it being really obvious who owes what to whom, we can have a fluid, formless ownership structure that's always in permanent beta. As long as we keep moving forward, adding attractive new features, the situation is booming!

Now, I wouldn't want to claim that Web 2.0 is as frail as the financial system — the financial system that supported it and made it possible! But Web 2.0 is directly built on top of finance. Web 2.0 is supposed to be business. This isn't a public utility or a public service, like the old model of an Information Superhighway established for the public good.

The Information Superhighway is long dead — it was killed by Web 1.0. And web 2.0 kills web 1.0.

What Bruce Sterling Actually Said About Web 2.0 at Webstock 09



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.