The day web 2.0 died

In December 1969, a free concert at Altamont Speedway was put on by the Rolling Stones to appease fans who thought their concert tour tickets were too expensive.

Altamont was originally perceived by many as a kind of Woodstock Festival West. In the end, it was the defining moment where the counterculture of the 1960s finished. Hell’s Angels members who were providing security (either for the generator, or the artists – depending who you believe) were involved in violence that included one murder, three accidental deaths and scores of injuries.  Peace, love and dropping out had it’s dark side revealed.

In reality, it was a long time coming, free love in the Haight Ashbury area changed in tone as the area like many others in other cities became awash with heroin. Political struggles from the Black Panther Party and Vietnam war to the communist party inspired riots in Paris, brought a much darker tone to culture in the 1960s. But it was Altamont that proved to be the defining moment when the culture changed.

Twitter shutting off user RSS feeds, reminded me of Altamont. Now no one died when Twitter shut off RSS feeds, but in my mind it certainly marked the end of an era in web 2.0.

One of the challenges with web 2.0 was in the definition of it. Tom Coates used the phrase a ‘web of data’ and various writers have come up with attributes that encompassed:

  • Participation
  • Folksonomy : Free Classification of Information
  • Rich User Experience
  • User as a Contributor
  • Long Tail
  • User Participation
  • Basic Trust
  • Dispersion
  • The web as an application platform rather than as an information source to be consumed
  • The ability to combine services together through APIs to come up with a hybrid or mash-up
  • I would also add the ability to import and export relevant data, which is implied by many of the earlier attributes mentioned

I was fortunate to work inhouse at Yahoo! in the mid noughties. During that time the company acquired Flickr and del.io.us and I had the opportunity to meet a number of the key movers and shakers in the business including Stewart Butterfield and Joshua Schachter. In both of these services there was the opportunity to export one’s data out of the service. A central part of the Flickr development philosophy was the in-house developers would be working with the same APIs to build out the website as the external developers who build applications that helped augment and accelerate the Flickr community.

Twitter in many respects, was similar to Flickr, both services were augmented and accelerated by a vibrant third party community who made the products more useful and compelling from image hosting to social media marketing tools and even a Hello Kitty themed iPhone app. As Twitter has matured however, the openess of web 2.0 has given away to something else.

The company competed against the eco-system:

  • Image hosting
  • URL shortening
  • Twitter client applications

Then the company restricted access to information calls, getting rid of RSS feeds locked out another way of exporting data. I  can understand why it was done, Twitter competes for advertising revenue and audiences with more traditional closed businesses like Facebook or Google+ – which have more in common with the AOL of the late 1990s than it does with the web 2.0 companies in terms of ethos.

Twitter’s change in tack on RSS was a definite water shed moment in changing attitudes towards the open web from consumer data to building services with diverse APIs and the noughties spirit of web 2.0 in my mind is dead.

There were warning signs before, like there was before Altamont:

  • Google and Yahoo! retrenching previously open services and APIs
  • Facebook’s predatory approach to social graph harvesting from other networks without allowing consumers to export similar data
  • The numerous changes that Delicious has gone through

Instead businesses will take a much more hard nosed attitude to data, especially your data;  Facebook is a prime example of the Gordon Gecko attitude to personal data. And it’s time that responsible consumers and brands realised and changed their own game:

  • Brands include social advertising heavily in your social mix, if you haven’t been doing it already like us. Also keep your eyes open for data sets that could build actions or augment the customer picture from a marketing insights to compliance perspective on things. This portends a golden age of risk management for a diverse range of companies from home and health insurance to credit cards and car rentals
  • Consumers – ask yourself what scenario would find my like, drunken picture, location check-in, quantified self data valuable to a company and then assume that it will be used in that way at some point. There is nothing wrong with sharing, but share with your eyes open. Interruption advertising whether on Facebook or television will only work to a certain extent – there is a ceiling on conversion rates; but your data in the right hands provides actionable business insight that can be provided for a price