Web 2.0, and other nauseating buzzwords

Attending the Web Essentials 2005 conference (others' thoughts on ) was the best thing I've done this year. I'm not kidding. The Navy SEALs, the heart surgeons, and the rocket scientists (i.e. the best of the best) in web design all spoke there. Among my favourites were: Tantek Çelik, the creator of the famous Box Model hack (a.k.a. the Tan hack) and markup guru; Eric CSS Meyer (his middle initials speak for themselves); Jeffrey Veen, whose partner Jesse James Garrett coined the 2005 Acronym of the Year (AJAX), and who is one of the more enthusiastic speakers I've ever heard; and Doug Bowman, who is blessed with an artistic talent, that he couples with a devotion to web standards, and with a passionate sense of vision.

Since Jakob Nielsen was absent, one thing I didn't get out of the conference was a newfound ability to write short sentences (observe above paragraph). :-)

But guys, why did you have to overuse that confounded, annoying buzzword Web 2.0? Jeff in particular seemed to really shove this phrase in our faces, but I think many of the other speakers did also. Was it just me, or did this buzzword really buzz the hell out of some people? I know I'm more intolerant than your average geek when it comes to buzzwords, but I still feel that this particular one rates exceptionally poor on the too much marketing hype to handle scale. It's so corny! Not to mention inaccurate: "The Web™" isn't something that's "released" or packaged in nice, easy-to-manage versions, any more than it's a single technology, or even (arguably) a single set of technologies.

AJAX I can handle. It stands for something. It's real. It's cool. "Blog" I can handle (ostensibly this is a "blog entry" - although I always try to write these thoughts as formal articles of interest, rather than as mere "today I did this..." journal entries). It's short for "web log". That's even more real, and more cool. "Podcast" I can tolerate. It's a fancy hip-hop way of saying "downloadable audio", but I guess it is describing the emerging way in which this old technology is being used. But as for ye, "Web 2.0", I fart in your general direction. The term means nothing. It represents no specific technology, and no particular social phenomenon. It's trying to say "we've progressed, we're at the next step". But without knowing about the things it implies - the things that I can handle, like RSS, CSS, "The Semantic Web", and Accessibility - the phrase itself is void.

Most of all, I can't handle the undertone of "Web 2.0" - it implies that "we're there" - as if we've reached some tangible milestone, and from now on everything's going to be somehow different. The message of this mantra is that we've been climbing a steep mountain, and that right now we're standing on a flat ledge on the side of the mountain, looking down at what we've just conquered. This is worse than void, it is misleading. We're not on a ledge: there are no ledges! We're on the same steep mountainside we've been on for the past 10 years. We can look down at any old time, and see how far we've come. The point we're at now is the same gradient as the rest of the mountain.

And also (back to WE05), what's with the MacOcracy? In the whole two days of this conference, scarcely a PC was to be seen. Don't get me wrong, I'm not voicing any anxious concern as to why we web developers aren't doing things the beloved Microsoft way. I have as little respect for Windows, et al. as the next geek. But I still use it. Plenty of my friends (equally geeky) are also happy to use it.

I've always had some "issues" with using Mac, particularly since the arrival of OS X. Firstly, my opinion is that Mac is too user-friendly for people in the IT industry. Aren't we supposed to be the ones that know everything about computers? Shouldn't we be able to use any system, rather than just the easiest and most usable system available? But hey, I guess a lot of web designers really are just that - designers - rather than actual "IT people". And we all know how designers love their Macs.

Secondly, Macs have increasingly become something of a status symbol and a fashion icon. To be seen with a Mac is to be "hip". It's a way of life: having an iBook, an iPod, an iCal. Becoming an iPerson. Well, I get the same nauseous feeling - the same gut reaction that is a voice inside me screaming "Marketing Hype!" - whenever I hear about the latest blasted iWhatever. Mac has been called the "BMW" of Operating Systems. What kind of people drive BMWs? Yeah, that's right - do you want to be that kind of person? I care a lot about not caring about that. All that image stuff. Keeping away from Macs is a good way to do that.

Lastly (after this, I'm done paying out Macs, I promise!), there's the whole overdone graphical slickness thing in OS X. The first time I used the beloved "dock" in Mac OS X, I nearly choked on my disgust. Talk about overcapitalisation! Ever hear the joke about what happened when the zealot CEO, the boisterous marketing department, and the way-too-much-time-on-their-hands graphics programmers got together? What happened was the OS X dock! Coupled with the zip-away minimising, the turning-cube login-logout, and all the rest of it, the result is an OS that just presents one too many animations after another!

Maybe I just don't get it. Sorry, strike that. Definitely I don't get it. Buzzwords, shiny OSes, all that stuff - I thought web development was all about semantics, and usability, and usefulness - the stuff that makes sense to me. Why don't you just tell me to go back to my little corner, and to keep coding my PHP scripts, and to let the designers get on with their designing, and with collecting their well-designed hip-hop gadgets. Which I will do, gladly.

Anyway, back to the conference. I discovered by going to Web Essentials that I am in many ways different to a lot of web designers out there. In many other ways, I'm also quite similar. I share the uncomfortable and introverted character of many of my peers. We share a love of good, clean, plain text code - be it programming or markup - and the advantages of this over binary formats. We share a love of sometimes quirky humour. We share the struggle for simplicity in our designs. We share the desire to learn from each other, and consequentially we share each others' knowledge. We share, of course, a love of open standards, and of all the benefits that they entail. And we share a love of food, in high quality as well as high quantity. We share the odd drink or 12 occasionally, too.

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