It was just the snippet of a line — it was in Daivd Remnick’s New Yorker piece on Tony Blair just before the election last spring, happily reproduced here — that made me laugh out loud and that came back to me this week. This was it:
“England, the one country where, it is said, the people feel schadenfreude toward themselves.”
I remembered that line, the sentinment of that idea, as post after post went up this past week to this wall of web 2.0 company logos, followed by another predictable round of wailing about how boring web 2.0 has become, posts starting with lamentation about “yet another (fill in social networking or web 2.0 or ajax or social search) company” and the cynical posing of people who act like they’ve seen it all before, but so many of whom have just graduated from college (or are still in college for all I know), or not yet old enough even for Mick Jagger to have said they shouldn’t even be trusted (which he said long before people who haven’t reached that age were born, when he was less than half his current age).
This all following Act I of the drama, of course, which started with last Fall’s Web 2.0 conference: the knowing winks among the technorati about “the new bubble” and “everything old is new again” memes.
I wondered, is this another case of self-directed schadenfreude — by the so-called web 2.0 community, towards their progeny, the web 2.0 start ups? Without the humor and fun and pathos of the English towards themselves and most of all their national teams (especially in soccer/football)?
Well, who knows and who cares, that’s just the turn to get me to (yeah, yeah, a little postmodern flourish of seeming transparency and misdirection in this post) what I really want to write, which is that that whinin’ ‘n’ wailin’ about how many web 2.0 start ups there are is pretty damned ironic. Ironic because there actually are important underlying forces and developments happening under the broad rubric of the web 2.0 label, things that are fundamental and that will have an impact for a long time. I’ll pick just one, a really simple example: the use of tagging to harness what could be chaotic, random noise from the community of users to make it more productive and relevant. There are others, developments that are important and real and that will change over time how all internet services work.
I think the schadenfreude is probably despair, well placed, too, because there is a problem — which is, that while some of the new web 2.0 companies have figured out how to solve interesting user problems, none have really figured out how to make interesting businesses out of that work. Including the big flipmeat examples, Skype and MySpace, and certainly the smaller burger flips, such as Flickr or del.icio.us. There has been a surprising amount of laziness on thinking through the commercial model implications of what is happening with the web 2.0 development — just reading through the Demo 2006 reports you can see it still — with the canned reliance on ad words or “we’ll figure out a targeted search strategy.”
In my mind, there are two companies that provide a guiding light on the business model front if people would think it through: eBay and Craigslist. Not Google (despite the fact they have a great business right now). AdSense and AdWords are arbitrage plays, bounded by time and taking advantage of the current immaturity of the internet platform. More on that later.