Why we ought to ignore Web 2.0 completely.

March 24, 2007 — 4 Comments

I think we need to be careful as far as how much we buy into this Web 2.0 concept. Believe me, I was drinking the kool-aid more than anyone else just a few months ago, but after SXSW, I’m starting to think otherwise.

Think of the biggest sites on the internet: Fark, Maddox, CollegeHumor–none of these were started by tech people. Myspace was started by a musician and Facebook by a college student–not Valley entrepreneurs. The implications of the Long Tail is that audiences become more fractured and niche oriented. Ironically, the so-called arbiters of cool in the Valley are all from the same niche. They’re all hipster nerds who like the same lame movies and the same lame music. Tech Crunch is just throwing spaghetti at the wall and it’s pretty rare that anything sticks. How often do those companies go anywhere at all?

Twitter is the perfect example. Does anyone with a brain think that there is some latent demand to bring the inconvenient stupidity of Myspace Bulletins directly to your cellphone? The Valley is just like Hollywood–full of yes-men, idiots, and losers; absolutely the last people who ought to be influencing culture. The problem here is a matter of perception. It’s so easy to lose touch. Put Rubel, Calacanis, Arrington and Kawasaki in your reader, check Digg a few times a day, and you start to forget how real people think. It begins to feel like Ubuntu and Linux and Photoshop are pressing concerns of the American public.

We had dinner with Drew Curtis of Fark.com last week, and he summed it up rather well with a single question. “Do you know anyone who plays Second Life?” Look at the so-called ‘hits’ the Valley has produced: Rocketboom and Lonelygirl15. I’ve met both of them now and they suck. No one I know watches them and they likely never will. The web can fellate them all they like, but it’s never going to change the fact that mainstream America won’t. Let’s be honest, Zefrank’s social network is going to fail. And so is Twitter and Mybloglog and 99% of any widget ever created. Second Life and WOW won’t hit critical mass and they’ll never tip past the people who already play them. I’m not sure if anyone is going to want to regress back to email updates either.

Sustainable companies need desperately to steer clear of this. Stay above the fray. It doesn’t matter how many books they write about the Wisdom of Crowds, art has never been about majorities. H.L Mencken used to write that America’s lack of an aristocratic, elitist class was directly responsible for it’s lack of original, high quality art. The internet isn’t about giving every single person a voice. Like a Republic, it aims to open the selectorate to a slightly larger circle of potential peoples, and not much more. It’s about opening the door for Philalawyers and Ebners and Dawes, because Hollywood was too close-minded to accept them. But it’s not supposed to give your average retard the same amount of traffic as the truly talented.

I think the best bet for anyone who wants to find success on the web, is to just ignore Web 2.0 entirely. It’s temporal horseshit–at least most of it is. Focus on quality and on content. Build real relationships with real people. Email strangers genuine emails until your eyes bleed. The audience with money is disproportionately intelligent, I’m not sure we need to organize everything to the point where they literally need to do nothing to access content. Let’s meet them halfway, and spend that energy on bringing our best when we do.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

4 responses to Why we ought to ignore Web 2.0 completely.

  1. I generally like reading your stuff but this entry just came off like resentful rambling.

    Just a couple of things I wanted to address:

    “Think of the biggest sites on the internet: Fark, Maddox, CollegeHumor–none of these were started by tech people. Myspace was started by a musician and Facebook by a college student–not Valley entrepreneurs.”

    I know that Maddox and collegehumor get pretty high traffic, but biggest sites on the internet? Not quite, especially compared to myspace or facebook – both of which were very much contrived by tech people.

    “How often do those companies go anywhere at all?”

    What’s the success rate for start ups in any industry?

    “Second Life and WOW won’t hit critical mass and they’ll never tip past the people who already play them.”

    I think second life is heavily hyped, but wow is nothing less than phenomenon. What do you even mean by critical mass? WoW has a fuckton amount of people playing it – 8.5million and growing. There was only a fraction of that for people who played these games 2 years ago.

  2. Do you know what Critical Mass is? Literally–“The critical mass of fissile material is the amount needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction–” but in terms of the net, or social theory, enough resources to “tip” to spread to everyone–like cellphones, or Seinfeld.

    WOW and 2nd are niche products–meganiche for sure, but they’ll never make that leap past the relatively small, and similar community in which they currently reside. Look come back in 2 years, and the same lame people will be playing the same lame games. Second Life won’t tip, and WOW will be the same stigmatized nerd game. They’ll never be as big as Madden, or Call of Duty or Halo. But since tech people in positions of power like those games, they like to hail them as social revolutions to make themselves feel important.

    Which is essentially what we’re dealing with. Web 2.0 to it’s core, was designed to please tech people. It’s simple clean design, it uses difficult, complicated code, the users do all the work, and no content has to be created on the front end. So of course they go around screaming about a revolution–because it’s the one THEY want. But it’s not necessarily the same one the people want. Nor is it the one that’s ultimately going to occur.

    And there is very much a difference between a tech person and a valley tech person. I like technology, you might even call me a tech person, but never would I ever be described as anything like a Silicon Valley tech person.

  3. I assumed you were using tech guy and Silicon Valley guy interchangeably. It sure did seem that way with your first couple of sentences in your second paragraph. My bad, I suppose.

    Web 2.0 is a trendy term created by people who aren’t even in the industry it’s used for. The trademark features of what web 2.0 represent aren’t necessarily anything new – more so just a refinement and a maturation of preexisting concepts. From my standpoint, there are no THEY that are screaming revolution except for typical fanbois and sensationalist of other types. You make it sound like there is some detached collective conscience of THEYS (tech guys?) that are engineering some sort of pseudo-revolution. More likely, the THEYS are just trying to follow the trends of people’s wants and responding as such.

    Wow and Second Life isn’t even on the same level. Second life’s perceived success is largely manufactured. Here is a simple litmus test: type Second Life into Google and then type World of Warcraft into Google. In second life’s results you’ll see yahoo news, reuters, and newsweek, most likely mentioning IBM, Toyota, or Honda establishing an in game presence. In wow’s results you’ll see user generated fan-based content. Wow is a genuine success on many levels, unlike the over hyped wannabe social phenomenon Second Life is.

    Are you defining Madden, Call of duty, and Halo as mainstream successes that have reached critical mass? If so, then financial success isn’t being measured because Wow defeats all three put together. Influence and domination in their industry isn’t a factor either. If presence in other forms of mainstream products is being counted then does Dave Chappelle, South Park, and Office Space count? What’s the distinguishing attribute? I know – nerds play wow.

  4. “It’s about opening the door for Philalawyers and Ebners and Dawes, because Hollywood was too close-minded to accept them. But it’s not supposed to give your average retard the same amount of traffic as the truly talented.”

    It won’t give an average retard the same traffic as someone with real talent? How dare you. You’ve just crushed all of my dreams.

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