The conversation slowly drifted through myriad of topics, like a leaf on a bubbling stream, when the topic of Web 2.0 reared its ugly head. We didn't get two sentences into the topic before I threw out an opinion that, in some company, tends to bristle a few hairs on the back of a few necks:
"Web 2.0 is about six months away from death," I opine openly. "Either some event is going to take place, or people will simply lose interest in this new social networking phenomenon... But either way, this whole Web 2.0 revolution thing? It's going to die."
I didn't know it at the time, but at this table, there was no one who was going to disagree with me. Usually, when I say such things, it's in the company of junior developers, MBAs, overzealous client partners, and other excitable, easily-marketed-to people who simply fail to learn from experience (or haven't had the opportunity to learn from it).
But at this table, there was seated five veterans of the first Dot Com disaster. Some of us have been nerds before it was actually profitable to be nerds, others of us kind of fell into the role based on some odd interest which eventually led to greater exploration of the topic on the net, where we found we loved the technology used to present all this great information. And one thing all of us knew...
Handing the keys to the cage to the monkeys is never, ever going to work. Ever. A fact that I wouldn't have to wait six months to begin bearing itself out... It took exactly four days.
Social media, transparency, The Great Online Society... These things are great - in theory. Allowing The People™ to directly determine the way things work is a fantastic and noble concept. The problem is, it just doesn't withstand practical application. Just ask Lenin.
The point of this post is that tonight, May 1, 2007, is what I consider to be a pivotal moment in proving my theory. Tonight is the night that Digg stopped being Digg, for better or for worse.
Digg.com has been held as a shining bastion of the Web 2.0 world for, oh, about a year and a half or so. Using DHTML and AJAX as nifty, forward-thinking tools to allow users to determine and comment on not only the content of the site but the comments left by other users is a great concept. They took the concept of user-voting from Kuro5hin.org, the topics of Slashdot.org, and the presentation and theories of Fark.com, mixed it all up, and became the darlings of TWiT podcats, Wired articles, and the New Web Society in general. The users determine the content that's published to the site. You are in control.
The problem is, it just doesn't stand up to practical application, as demonstrated on May 1, 2007. Long story short:
Someone cracked HD-DVD AACS encryption on Linux. They posted the hex code for the key (09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0), someone on Digg posted an article to it. The article was dumped pretty quickly after being Dugg to the front page, so another was submitted, then another, then another...
The articles are all being deleted by the mods, and Adelson posted a note on his blog saying that the MPAA owned the code as intellectual property. Now, I'm not so sure it's possible to copyright a HEX number (if it is, I'm TOTALLY going to copyright the actual number for a Google and sue them into oblivion! And then I'm going to ride my unicorn into the sunset and divide by zero the entire way).
So now, users are posting the key in every comment. 14 of the last 20 front-paged articles are about the "fiasco." They're upset that Digg professes to be all about "user generated content" and yet they're being "censored," etc.
Kind of entertaining to watch... But also kind of sad. I hate that a million or so users just discovered that, for the past year or so, they've been marketed to. "WE control the content!" They've been saying. "It's OURS! US US US!"
Yet somehow, none of that much-vaunted 60 million in revenue and potential half-billion buyout seems to be making it back to "THEM." The users are realizing that, when threatened with the potential to lose revenue, Digg will side against the users in favor of making the money they've been making.
There is NOTHING wrong with this. It's called business, and they teach it in schools across the nation. It's just not what the users have been used to thinking about their much loved site.
Some signs of this reared their heads early on, with Digg sending Cease and Desist notices to sites like digggames.com and dugg.com, sites which mirrored content that was promoted to the front page (in order to provide the content to users who showed up too late to visit the site before it succumbed to the "Digg Effect"). Digg made the argument that, in the US, trademark owners must prove that they aggressively defend their trademark, lest they have it revoked by the powers that be.
The problem is, Digg could have easily licensed use of the Digg trademark to the owners of those sites. They could have co-opted the sites under the official Digg umbrella (the owners of those sites mentioned that they would have been more than happy to run the site but let Digg own it). They could have done any number of things to keep those sites rolling along.
But visiting those sites means eyeballs looking somewhere else besides Digg for content. And that means less eyes on ads. And THAT means loss of revenue.
It's business, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just not what they said they were doing.
I understand that this may not be as much about profitability as it is about legal liability. But it seems to me that a site like Digg.com, with a userbase that has been quoted as being upwards of 7 million users, could easily counter any DMCA request to remove a number which a) has irrevocably escaped into the public domain and b) can't be trademarked or copyrighted (it's a number, for chrissake). But the point remains... When threatened, Digg asserted their own authority to protect themselves. The users' will was disregarded. This is NOT what Digg has claimed to be about. The disillusionment is over.
So, tonight, we're seeing users aggressively asserting their dominance over Digg's user-submission and user-promotion system. It's about 11 PM EST here right now, and I'm wiling to wager that this will continue for a few more hours, before Digg implements a blanket block of any post or comment which contains the key. The users will find ways around it, until those ways are also defeated.
Another sort of revolt will take place, where people simply unite behind various concepts and bulk-submit content around those concepts (my guess will be articles against the DMCA and how the RIAA, MPAA and others abuse it, along with passing mentions of the hex key).
Over the next few days, you'll see a ton of references to this "fiasco" and how much of a scandal it is. And then you'll see a new method of moderation on Digg. User-promotion will shift - albeit silently - to user-suggestion. Articles will be aggressively moderated, checked for mention of the code.
But it'll be too late. The monkeys are out of the cage.
Some users will move to Reddit. Some will visit Slashdot and Fark more often. Most will stick with Digg anyway, but the way Digg worked simply won't be the same.
And thus marks the day that Web 2.0 officially began to be depreciated in favor of Web 3.0, whatever that may be. The "you run us" kind of sites like Digg and Reddit will simply be exposed as the users test the bounds of their freedom and discover that, anything they do to impact profitability will be deleted as quickly as possible. MySpace will collapse under its own weight, with spammers, bands, "comedians" and other publicity-grabbing folks will outweigh legitimate users by nearly two to one.
The concept of transparency will become less necessary, much like restaurants placing the kitchen in plain view of the patrons... It's nice and refreshing at first, but over time, you just don't care how the Duck L'Orange is made, so long as it hits your plate within an acceptable time of when you ordered it and it doesn't taste like shit. Social Networking will persist, but it's no different than the days of newsgroups and forums.
Distribution of video and music and TV over the net will continue forward into whatever next iteration of the net we come up with, and eventually networks will simply build distribution channels much like they have over-the-air and over COAX now. You'll still watch it on a TV. Nothing will change.
The Web 2.0 concepts held in such high regard are actually persistant concepts that have always existed. A lot of what's brought so much attention to this newest iteration of netfrenzy is just fluff. Web 2.0 is just a marketing term. It's still the internet. It will continue to grow and change and adapt, but the ideas that have been much ballyhooed in this age of the G4 network, the crap that Wired has become... Yeah.
May Day 2007 - the day Web 2.0 died.
Update: 5.2.07 1:44AM EST:
Well, Digg just pulled their site offline to stem the massive influx of AACS-key related articles. I guess that's one way to handle it.
Update: 5.2.07 9:41AM EST:
Looks like Digg is reversing itself. Take back what I said about being kinda weak - that's good stuff. Way to go, Kevin and Co.
Do I still think last night was the beginning of the end of Web 2.0? Yep. We, the browsing / consuming public, just figured out what's driving all that nifty social networking - us. It's not the place, it's the people... Same as it's always been. Just because the intertubes have reached critical mass and are being used by a massive public who have plenty of time (which equals money to advertisers, which equals money to sites) to pour into it doesn't change the fact that it's still the same it's always been.
There's no 2.0 on the web. It's buzz... Hooplah. And the death knell for that aspect of it just began ringing.
Or maybe it hasn't, I don't know. I'm just a nerdy geek with a blog and a published book and a job writing software.