Web and publishing generations

A discussion and explanation of web and publishing generations.

Why "The Media" is not "The Message"

Although I do not know the origin of the often mentioned catchphrase "Web 2.0" it is totally off the mark by any measure. The web is not currently in "generation 2", and the concept that is popularly referred to by that phrase is not about the web as such either. It is about publishing. This brief note outlines the internet and publishing generations sofar, just for reference. It does not claim to be scientific or accurate in any sense. Read it as opinion and feel free to disagree.
Published here on September 28, 2005. Copyright: © Claus Schmidt, clsc.net
Updated (very little) August 7, 2021
Citations (quotes, not full-text copy) are considered fair use if accompanied by author name and a link to this web site or page.

Update: After writing all this I found out that the term was coined by Dale Dougherty for an O'Reilly conference. It does seem, however, like even Tim O'Reilly recognizes that the name is not accurate

Internet and publishing

Some people like to confuse matters, eg. by stating such nonsense as "The media is the message" or "War is peace" (okay, the latter was a bad Orwellian pun, sorry). Some people, I do not know who, have recently begun throwing the catchphrase "Web 2.0" around, as if "the web" (in the general sense of the word, not the specific, read on) was about to go from one generation to another for the first time, and as if this was a very important thing. Both assumptions are wrong.

What these people allegedly refer to as being "Web 2.0" is apparently the automatic exchange of information between web sites. Now, that's no more about the web than "Money transfer" is about "Banks". You don't talk about "Bank 2.0" because a new payment method gets invented, do you? Rhetorical question, I know.

The concept referred to as "Web 2.0" is not about the web as such, it is about publishing. Publishing on the Internet, or by means of the Internet, but still publishing.

Let's take a few steps back and look at the full picture

Internet generations

Let's get this straight from the beginning: Web 2.0 is past. Long past.

Before we even get to "the web" we had notable predecessors. These were, eg Teletype, and BBS'es. These systems allowed the exchange of information (and, well... ascii cat pictures), but they were not interconnected as such.

Web 1.0 was email. Yes, E-mail, a true survivor. That was where it all started.

Web 2.0 was the brave new world that unfolded as people could suddently utilize vast archives of files from around the world. Either by examining lists, and lists-of-lists (and lists-of-lists-of-lists...) of FTP archives or by means of modern day tools such as "Archie", the very first search engine. You may laugh, but making files accessible to everyone without having to send them via email was really a major step forward. Fast forward to:

Web 3.0. That arrived with the Gopher and the first hypertext protocol. It was a fairly short period. Some may say that it was too short, and that everything that followed was noise. I'll refrain from commenting on that now, but I could. Really.

Now, before you start screaming out loud that the author of this document is a ***** who ought to be aware that the WWW is not the Internet and that Gopher and Archie were predecessors to the WWW not part of it, let me say this:

You're right, not absolutely but still relatively. Now, those people that have coined the "Web 2.0" catchphrase don't talk about "WorldWideWeb 2.0" do they? Rhetorical, I know. The thing is that while "WorldWideWeb", or "WWW" is a specific thing, "the web" is more or less a synonym of "the Internet". That is the general sense of the word, and that is the use I'm adopting here. I know it's confusing, but then a Xerox used to be a brand of copier, and not just any old copier, and a Coke wasn't always just any old soda...

Feel free to disagree, I can understand that, and I won't hold it against you. It won't change what I have written or what I'm about to write. So, make the mental excercise to replace "Web" with "Internet" as you read this.

Web 4.0 started with the browser. If you insist, please call it "Web 1.0" but then you will be referring to the "WorldWideWeb" and not the "Internet". It will not change my point. The media is not the message. Let's get on with it, shall we:

Web 5.0 is actually slowly starting to emerge with P2P technology, but it's sofar being crippled too much to really take off by politics and DRM. Yes, "Web 5.0". And it does co-exist quite comfortably with "Web 4.0", "Web 3.0", "Web 2.0", and "Web 1.0". Well, not really "Web 3.0", as the Gopher servers are very rare these days. But those that are there exist, by definition. Now, that's not all:

Web 6.0 is actually already starting to unfold with wireless access and "web extensions" - eg. Skype, podcasting, and (more) early attempts at merging internet and tv - I believe we've even seen an IP fridge. Oh, do you recall WAP? Believe me or not, that concept belongs here. Sometimes something is far ahead of time. So, don't tell me that "Web 2.0" is the latest, or even that it's new. It's not, and it's not.

Publishing generations

Now, "Web 2.0" isn't about the web at all. It's not about "the Internet", it's not about "WWW", it's about publishing. Publishing on the Internet, or by means of the Internet, but still publishing. Oh, and even here, the number "2" is generations behind.

Publishing 2.0 occured when people started to send email in stead of paper. You may argue that "Publishing 1.0" actually happened as people went from stone to paper, and that "Publishing 2.0" arrived with Gutenbergs technique of printing. In that case, adjust the numbers in the following while reading.

Publishing 3.0 occured as people would start to publish files in stead of just sending files to each other by email. They did so on FTP-servers, and the documents could be downloaded directly and then read with an appropriate reader program.

Publishing 4.0 occured as people started to publish documents that could be read online in stead of files. This happened with the event of the Gopher.

The bright reader will note how the publishing generations follow the evolution in the technology, yet the two is not the same. This line of evolution of course brings us to the browser - a.k.a. the "web browser", and

Publishing 5.0, which emerged as people started to publish coherent web sites in stead of collections of single documents. Now, don't confuse the medium and the message, or even the medium and the technology. A modern "Web Browser" can display "web sites" as well as "Gopher" or "FTP" sites. No problem. It's "backwards compatible", as the saying goes. See?

Publishing 6.0 started with websites exchanging information - that is probably what "those Web 2.0 people" think are starting to happen now, but even that is as old as the term "content provider". What is being referred to as "Web 2.0" is not new, it's just another way of content providership.

Last, I will add the somewhat cryptic message that "the conversation" takes place at seven. But everybody thinks that's about blogs, so they'll probably miss it. In this phase, "Publishing 7.0", we will see disintegration of "web sites" as it's now all about "data" in stead. No need to have it all at one place, just get it to where the data consumer is, as it's needed. Again, note how several generations can co-exist happily.


A brief outline of this document was originally posted by the author at 3:57 pm on September 28, 2005 (utc) here



Document URL: http://clsc.net/articles/web-and-publishing-generations.php