Why we ought to ignore Web 2.0 completely.

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.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.