Why Zeldman’s Web 3.0 Misses the Mark

In Web 3.0, Jeffrey Zeldman writes a long missive on the subject of Web 2.0. He writes: “To you who are toiling over an AJAX- and Ruby-powered social software product, good luck, God bless, and have fun. Remember that 20 other people are working on the same idea. So keep it simple, and ship it […]

In Web 3.0, Jeffrey Zeldman writes a long missive on the subject of Web 2.0. He writes:

“To you who are toiling over an AJAX- and Ruby-powered social software product, good luck, God bless, and have fun. Remember that 20 other people are working on the same idea. So keep it simple, and ship it before they do, and maintain your sense of humor whether you get rich or go broke. Especially if you get rich. Nothing is more unsightly than a solemn multi-millionaire.

To you who feel like failures because you spent last year honing your web skills and serving clients, or running a business, or perhaps publishing content, you are special and lovely, so hold that pretty head high, and never let them see the tears.”

Presumably Zeldman wrote this piece for the sweet spot of readers who love to push back on any idea they feel is marketing-driven. And since O’Reilly Media coined the term it is, in part, marketing-driven. In all the talks that I’ve had about Web 2.0 there are definitely some people who resent this, and despite anything I might say, will continue to do so. I accept that. Just like the others who have done so before him, Zeldman will definitely get the crowd cheering.

But I would like to remind that same crowd that everyone has an agenda to push, be it O’Reilly or Zeldman or Porter. For the past few years following Zeldman’s release of his book Designing with Web Standards, he’s been writing about and promoting, well, designing with web standards. Could Zeldman be criticizing O’Reilly for doing what he does himself?

Every person has their own ideas, and each believes in them as they should.

As we all know, the problem with web standards, like all technology, is that they don’t make your product more usable, desirable, or compelling on their own. No, we need innovative designers for that. Sure, web standards make it easier for developers to create sites, but convincing developers to use them doesn’t make users love your site. Validation might very well be the biggest red herring in design today.

Innovating with Web 2.0 ideas like creating an architecture of participation, however, might just make users love your site.

There’s a big difference between ideas and the people who wrongly abuse them. To me, it looks like Jeffrey doesn’t like the people who evangelize Web 2.0 as being the greatest thing since sliced bread, the cure for headaches, and the best get rich scheme since Ponzi. Dash of Ajax, pinch of Ruby on Rails, and you’re about to flip. Of course, Zeldman is right about this: everyone is sick of these people. But there are also groups of people who are much more sane than that, and who follow Web 2.0 reasonably, pointing out that it’s not about the technology or the get-rich schemes, but about creating useful applications for real people.

But instead, Zeldman dismisses the idea of Web 2.o itself, and the subthemes which the designers at Flickr and 37Signals so obviously follow and, I might add, help teach us about. These things, as Zeldman himself points out, ain’t so bad after all:

“The best and most famous of these new web products (i.e. the two I just mentioned) foster community and collaboration, offering new or improved modes of personal and business interaction. By virtue of their virtues, they own their categories, which is good for the creators, because they get paid.

It is also good for our industry, because the prospect of wealth inspires smart developers who once passively took orders to start thinking about usability and design, and to try to solve problems in a niche they can own. In so doing, some of them may create jobs and wealth. And even where the payday is smaller, these developers can raise the design and usability bar. This is good for everyone. If consumers can choose better applications that cost less or are free, then the web works better, and clients are more likely to request good (usable, well-designed) work instead of the usual schlock.”

Published: January 17th, 2006

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