At first, the Web was simple. It was a world so full of static pages with useless information that a GIF of a dancing hamster or (god forbid) baby could turn into an overnight sensation. It was an era so enthralled with its own existence that its purveyors, creators, and financiers never really asked if it was sustainable until it was too late. And, as we can all learn from South Park, without a Phase 2, Phase 3 can never equal profit.
Web 2.0 is/was a bit different. If the defining trait of the first Web cycle was the stupid animated GIF, the current “It” sites all have one thing in common: They are, to varying degrees, reliant on user-generated content. Without your neighbor/classmate/sister/girlfriend’s tireless devotion to keeping her profile up-to-date, MySpace would merely be a place for FOX to promote its properties. Without a horde of news junkies yearning to see their username in digital print, Digg would be an ugly page of yellow and white (and their new profile feature would be a joke).
And that is why the Web 2.0 era will come to end sooner rather than later. Because if there is one immutable law of humankind, it is that we are really, really lazy.
Do you have a Friendster profile? If you do (and you don’t happen to live in the Philippines, where it is bizarrely popular), chances are you haven’t touched it in a few years. Maybe it was because something newer and more feature-filled came along in the form of MySpace, or maybe you just got sick of it. Either way–You gave up on it. As did I.
And MySpace–that was great for awhile. Everybody who was anybody was on it. Hell, your mom may have even sent you a “friend” request. Then you got lots of spam and your computer started to crash because of unsolicited death metal songs playing through your speakers. Either way, Facebook gave you everything you wanted from MySpace, only it was much cleaner, easier to use, and a bit more “mature” feeling. Hell, you’re no kid anymore. Leave MySpace to the tweens.
So then you built up your Facebook profile. Refound the exact same people you had “friended” on Friendster and MySpace, and added a bunch of cool new “applications” of various quality. You may even think you have a permanent “home” for your profile now. That is, unless Facebook begins to remind you too much of your college years, and all the high school kids who are now on it take over. Then it might be time to grow up and invest your time in LinkedIn.
The point is, it is hard work keeping up with these things. And there will be a point down the line when, even if it’s not done in a collective shrug, the Web world will just say “screw it”, and update their pages more and more seldom, until Facebook resembles Friendster.
And Wikipedia–perhaps the Web’s greatest gift to humanity –is essentially based on the idea that people will be generous with their time and editing skills. While the prospect of giving the gift of knowledge to the world may sound tempting, there will come a point when the only people who have time to frequently check up on articles and update them will be egomaniacs making sure that everybody knows that Scott Tuckerson Kicks Ass or that their best frenemy’s name appears in an article about oral sex.
Right now, the bubble that the Web exists in is not so much a financial bubble as it is a time bubble. There is still a novelty for a lot of people associated with finding friends on social networking sites, Digging their favorite stories, updating articles about the history of pinball, and leaving comments on their favorite blogs. But that will wear off. People will revert back to the things they used to do: like Minesweeper and work. And without millions of generous mouse-clickers, most of Web 2.0 is weakened, if not entirely useless.
Whenever it gets here, Web 3.0 may be bigger and better than what we have now, but you can bet that it won’t be foolish enough to rely on the unreliable. And there is nothing more unreliable than human nature.
Seth Porges writes on future technology and its role in personal electronics for his column, The Futurist. It appears every Thursday and an archive of past columns is available here.