The reason why the topic interests me is that I think sitting around and pontificating about the web is kinda fun. Things do change fast here, and one wonders if one gets the right words whether one can track such changes better, or identify the factors that matter most in any given situation. Right now all I want to do is get a very basic grip on the terms used, since this stuff is way outside my field.
I think a good example of how debate about words might yield insight (albeit I’m not an expert on these things, and this “insight” comes years after those who were at the cutting edge of these trends forged the trends) is below:
If Netscape was the standard bearer for Web 1.0, Google is most certainly the standard bearer for Web 2.0, if only because their respective IPOs were defining events for each era. So let’s start with a comparison of these two companies and their positioning.
Netscape framed “the web as platform” in terms of the old software paradigm: their flagship product was the web browser, a desktop application, and their strategy was to use their dominance in the browser market to establish a market for high-priced server products. Control over standards for displaying content and applications in the browser would, in theory, give Netscape the kind of market power enjoyed by Microsoft in the PC market. Much like the “horseless carriage” framed the automobile as an extension of the familiar, Netscape promoted a “webtop” to replace the desktop, and planned to populate that webtop with information updates and applets pushed to the webtop by information providers who would purchase Netscape servers.
In the end, both web browsers and web servers turned out to be commodities, and value moved “up the stack” to services delivered over the web platform.
Google, by contrast, began its life as a native web application, never sold or packaged, but delivered as a service, with customers paying, directly or indirectly, for the use of that service. None of the trappings of the old software industry are present. No scheduled software releases, just continuous improvement. No licensing or sale, just usage. No porting to different platforms so that customers can run the software on their own equipment, just a massively scalable collection of commodity PCs running open source operating systems plus homegrown applications and utilities that no one outside the company ever gets to see.
At bottom, Google requires a competency that Netscape never needed: database management. Google isn’t just a collection of software tools, it’s a specialized database. Without the data, the tools are useless; without the software, the data is unmanageable. Software licensing and control over APIs–the lever of power in the previous era–is irrelevant because the software never need be distributed but only performed, and also because without the ability to collect and manage the data, the software is of little use. In fact, the value of the software is proportional to the scale and dynamism of the data it helps to manage.
Google’s service is not a server–though it is delivered by a massive collection of internet servers–nor a browser–though it is experienced by the user within the browser. Nor does its flagship search service even host the content that it enables users to find. Much like a phone call, which happens not just on the phones at either end of the call, but on the network in between, Google happens in the space between browser and search engine and destination content server, as an enabler or middleman between the user and his or her online experience.
While both Netscape and Google could be described as software companies, it’s clear that Netscape belonged to the same software world as Lotus, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other companies that got their start in the 1980’s software revolution, while Google’s fellows are other internet applications like eBay, Amazon, Napster, and yes, DoubleClick and Akamai.
– Tim O’Reilly, from “What is Web 2.0“
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