Why the classic Web 2.0 is going extinct in the Post-PC era

When Google announced last week that it would no longer support iGoogle, a one-time popular web 2.0 service, it became once more obvious to me that the classical web 2.0 is on its way out. More and more often the term “web 3.0” is used to refer to not as originally intended the semantic web but the mobile web, perhaps including cloud computing and social media. The term “web 2.0 itself has been superseded by “social media” and “cloud computing” (which have continued their basic functionality). I will be using Google Trends to show the waning interest in the classic web 2.0 here.

The first figure shows how “web 2.0” , which was coined in 2004, is being substituted by the terms “social media” and “cloud”, which in itself is the first indication of change.

By “classic” web 2.0 I refer to a set of typical features, which are

1.       The content is edited on a PC (word processor, photo editing software, etc.)
2.       The content is uploaded to and hosted by the web service
3.       The content is published and shared on the web
4.       A community subscribes to feeds and comments on the content

The content is typically only one media type, like photos, videos, documents, presentations, URL links, etc.  Probably among the most prominent early web 2.0 services were Flickr (photos), Digg (social news), delicious (social bookmarking – could not be included her due to misleading search results; diigo, a similar service is included instead). What you can see in the figure is that (search) interest in these services where highest in the period from 2007-2009 and started a slow but steady decline afterwards.
The same holds true for web 2.0 key technologies such as podcasting, blogging and RSS feeds.
Even if the decline in interest might seem rather slow, one has to bear in mind that the number of internet users has about doubled since 2007 (from 1 billion to more than 2 billion) and user activity has multiplied many times over. This distorts the downward curve effectively as can be seen if you compare Flickr (probably the epitome of the classical web 2.0) with other photo sharing options (instagram/mobile and tumblr/social) over the past 12 months:

Interest in Instagram overtook Flickr some time in April 2012 and has since then remained about three times above the level of Flickr. Many more people prefer to post their photos on tumblr, a social media platform which is very popular for photo blogging, than on Flickr. Of course, posting photos on Facebook easily dwarfs anything else on the web. Even though the graph doesn’t represent the volume of photo posting as people aren’t interested exclusively in posting photos on Facebook it actually might underrepresent the relative volume of photos on Facebook (see:

What has led to this decline of classical are several factors?

1)      Social
People usually don’t naturally group around a certain kind of medium, like presentation slides, videos, URL-links etc. People group naturally around
·         Friendship and family (e.g. Facebook)

·         Hobbies and interests (e.g. Pinterest)

·         Work (e.g. LinkedIn)

Of course there are obvious exceptions like when professional or amateur photographers form communities around photos. Otherwise people rather prefer to have one place where they can share anything they want to share instead of having to go to many different places for different media.

2)      Mobile computing
Mobile computing has changed quite a lot on the web. Two factors are key here:
·         Mobile friendly website or app
·         Lack of Adobe Flash support
Many of the big web 2.0 services underestimated the impact of mobile internet use. The most drastic example perhaps is Flickr. Even though it would have been obvious for a photo service to go mobile, Flickr missed it out to provide an adequate mobile user experience. Instagram became for many people the platform of choice and Flickr hasn’t recovered even though it has come up with a nice mobile app in the meantime.
Many great web 2.0 are based on Flash (particularly when multimedia is required), which was banned by Apple for its iOS devices. Issuu and Calameo are two great web services which allow you to publish magazines online and have full magazine feel due to custom layout options and page turn animations made possible by Flash. Their user generated content would be ideal for consumption on tablets, however the services have been struggling to come up with mobile apps/HTML5 solutions – without any convincing results so far.

3)      Cloud computing/editing
Classic web 2.0 (hosting services) do not usually allow for online editing. When uploading a presentation to, say, Slideshare, and you discover a typo after uploading, there is nothing you can do but re-upload your slides. In a service like Google Presentations all you need to do is to correct that typo – a vastly better user experience.
Likewise, if a medium is created on a mobile device and uploaded to the cloud, editing on a PC only represents a clumsy, in no way user-friendly option. Most people (if at all) edit their photos on their smartphones and then upload them. Often, however, it would be much more advantageous to upload first and then edit on the big screen. Edits like colour correction, crops, adding text are much more conveniently done with a mouse, keyboard and a bigger screen. This is exactly the direction Google has taken with its Creative Kit, which allows editing photos directly from within a Picasa album or a Google+ post.  

Taking into consideration all of these factors make up web 2.5. Yahoo! is the classic web 2.0 company, a pioneer and certainly one of its champions. However, it has failed to keep up with recent developments. It is in an identity crisis and doesn’t really know what to do with its web 2.0 services. It has sold Delicious (for how much longer will social bookmarking be around?) and is not sure what to do with the once glorious Flickr. Looks like Yahoo! needs to become more Googly. Perhaps that is the reason why they have chosen one of Google’s top executives (Marissa Mayer) for CEO.
In conclusion, we might look at this development with a kind of nostalgia having used these services for so long or continuing to use them for a couple of more years as we still cherish them. One thing that makes me a bit sad is that the majority of the so-called “digital natives” have grown up without knowing, let alone using these tools. Anyway, the web is, has been and is definitely going to continue to be an exciting place. And with it cloud, social, mobile, local and artificial intelligence services Google is one it’s most innovative companies.

Google’s services might often not be shiny and polished and often have a “beta” feel to them. Yet, Goole is definitely showing the way forward. Just pointing to YouTube as a final example. Over the last year Google has constantly been adding social and editing features to YouTube. Upload a video from you smartphone and you can edit it, including trimming, rotating (many smartphone users have the habit of recording video vertically!), adding effects and a soundtrack with creative commons licensed music. You can then watch the video online with your friends in a hangout. Conversely, you can live-stream hangouts on YouTube and then publish recordings of them. YouTube is anything but a mere hosting and sharing service anymore and has come a long way from its web 2.0 days. With Google Now the real web 3.0 might just be around the corner.  

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