Well everybody, if you haven’t been seeing PR praise for Flock on the interweb then you must have been living under a Web 1.0 rock for awhile. Wired has praised it, Bessemer Venture Partners and many others gave them tons of money (enough to hire ~12 people out the shoot, supposedly around $2 million), nearly 70,000 people are talking about it on Technorati, but all this buzz isn’t really doing it for me.
My buddy Jason wrote about The Top 10 Things That Aren’t Web 2.0 over at Signal vs. Noise, and he and I are definitely of the same mind on this issue. Web 2.0 isn’t defined as using one specific technology (AJAX) or hiring a fleet of B and C people — Web 2.0 is just about doing things better than we all did them before. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary like everyone makes it out to seem.
In that post, Flock guy Chris Messina probably got the wind straight knocked out of him considering he wrote a 4 paragraph comment with his fisticuffs blazing, but he had pretty good reason — Jason basically called bullshit on his entire company. Flock and other “Web 2.0” applications are reminding me a lot of dotcom-era companies, but spun in a slightly different way. Now, these companies are SO socially-motivated and altruistic that the concepts of a revenue stream and a real business plan don’t get thought about nor defined until they realize they have no money. Now Flock might be flying down this path and they might not, but as far as I can tell, Flock would have done better as a bootstrapped pet project than a fully-funded, full-blown company.
When Doves Cry
Flock is a branch of the popular, open-source Firefox web browser. From what I’ve heard and seen, they’ve basically recoded a bunch of it, developed some really useful Firefox extensions, and made it friendly to work with other cool apps like Flickr and Delicious. To me, it sounds really cool and useful to the blog crowd, but I just can’t see a company being formed around it.
Because Flock is mostly just Firefox, they can’t ever resell it (not like selling a browser is a solid business plan anyway). Essentially, they are building a product they legally cannot sell. When they were recently Slashdotted the vast majority of the commenters said “big whoop” as well, and “how will they make money?”
Well if they’re not going to sell the product, they will be running advertisements to make money. Or not. I just read a post Flocker Andy Smith wrote and here’s a quote:
We are not expecting to make money running Google ads, we are not adware, we donâ€™t like ads, I donâ€™t like ads.
So no selling of Flock, no advertisements, am I missing something? They’re paying around $1M a year in salaries alone for ~12 people to work on a kickass product that is essentially shooting themselves in the foot business-wise. I could be missing a big thing here, so please let me know if my foot is in my mouth.
Web 2.0 Without Quotes Around It
I normally use quotes when mentioning “web 2.0” but for this section I’m throwing them to the side so I can add my definition of this buzzed over term to the growing list.
Web 2.0 is not a revolutionary step in the history of our industry, regardless of what everyone wants to think. We didn’t go from 1.0 to 2.0 overnight, nor does “2.0” as a version number on the web usher in new things that weren’t around a few months ago. I hate when an application uses AJAX, Ruby on Rails, RSS, etc. just because they think it’s what they should be using. If a hammer is all you have in your toolbox, then a hammer is all you’ll be using to build your house. Ruby on Rails is an amazing web framework, AJAX is a great way to quickly move data back and forth without disrupting the user experience, and RSS makes browsing frequently-updated websites really painless, but if what you’re working on requires none of these then don’t use them for the sake of using them. Amazon isn’t using RoR to power their n-tier web infrastructure, Google still requires you to click a button and reload a page if you want to search for something, and RSS syndication isn’t being used on the enterprise-class CRM applications that power the world’s largest companies.
Web 2.0 is about emerging best practices, putting priorities in order, and creating wonderful user experiences. It’s not a specific combination of technologies used in conjunction, it’s just a better way of doing things. In the late 90s people were using non-semantic HTML and tables to style pages, now we use structured XHTML markup and CSS because we now realize that it adds great value and benefits to our site or application. Back then everyone had Flash splash pages and 100KB navigation movies, more more more, and now the best applications are the ones that do things with elegant, simple, and useful interfaces.
Less is more is bullshit because essentially you are saying that More is what you are trying to attain and Less does it, as if More were something to want or covet. Current best practices suggest that Less is inherently more usable than More, and the acknowledgment of this philosophy is a growing trend spanning from the dotcom days to now. It wasn’t a flip-the-switch-and-make-it-simple moment, it was an evolution from the More mantra to the usable and beautiful Less mantra.
Ride The Wave, Let’s Hope It Won’t Crash
Dozens of “Web 2.0” companies launched this past week, while many other companies (Upcoming, Weblogs, Inc., Weblogs.com) were bought. It seems like the web industry economy has suddenly gained 50lbs of muscle weight overnight, and sudden upturns are always scary because it reminds me of the old days of over-valuation, junk IPOs, idiotic businesses, and everything else that sucked after the dotcom economy drowned. Are we growing too fast too quickly? Are people throwing their money around too haphazardly, without due diligence? I don’t know, but it’s always a possibility. Economic systems run in cycles, so if we’re currently living in a boom 2.0 era I want to get in and get out before the wave crashes ashore and sweeps us all under.