Foley on Microsoft

Is Microsoft Buying into the Web 2.0 Hype?

All indications show that the software giant has finally succumbed.

Sometimes, it pays to be a follower. That's what I thought, at least when it came to Microsoft and Web 2.0. Microsoft has been slow to jump on the latest Internet bubble bandwagon, which offers up utopian visions of the emerging Internet as a vastly integrated and self-improving platform. I had high hopes that the company could avoid being caught up in the web of hype around Web 2.0.

But with the advent of this month's Microsoft Mix '06 event in Las Vegas, I'm starting to wonder. While Microsoft doesn't mention "Web 2.0" explicitly in its conference materials, the company is undeniably jockeying to cash in on the hot Web 2.0 themes: AJAX development, RSS Monetization; "Conversations" as opposed to "Conferences," and so on.

That sinking feeling in my stomach got a bit stronger when I read some recent remarks by Gary Flake, the head of Microsoft's newly unveiled Live Labs. And according to Nathan Weinberg who runs the "Inside Microsoft" blog, Flake is prone to use terms like "macro-ization" of computing; "Internet singularity"; and (the dead giveaway of too much 2.0-ism) The Long Tail.

It's tough to accuse Microsoft of Web 2.0 pandering without providing a more complete definition of Web 2.0. Many have tried, but few have latched onto something tangible.

O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly attempted a concise definition that goes like this: "Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation,' and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences."

(And yes, for those of you counting -- that was one sentence. So much for brevity.)

All I can say is, I know Web 2.0 shucksterism when I see it. It's almost always promoted by vendors sporting inane names and venture capitalists and journalists who happily rode the last Internet Bubble wave. It's fraught with companies with half-baked ideas and flimsy business plans.

Now that you know how I really feel, you can see why I am loath to watch Microsoft become a big Web 2.0 backer.

I don't think Microsoft can or should ignore the Web. Microsoft made a major mistake in the early 1990s when Jim Allchin trumped Brad Silverberg, who had urged Microsoft to open Windows to the Web. With the announcement of the Microsoft Live initiative last year, the company is finally recovering from Allchin's effort to preserve the Windows franchise against all threats.

But being Web savvy doesn't mean jumping on every Internet scheme that floats down the pike. There has to be discernment between fly-by-night fads and real technology changes that affect the future of computing. Microsoft needed to integrate its evolving services platform with its shrink-wrapped software, as it plans to do via the Live strategy spearheaded by Chief Technology Officer Ray Ozzie. But it doesn't need to swallow any Web 2.0 snake oil in the process.

What say you, readers? Is Microsoft in danger of succumbing to the siren call of Web 2.0 and its backers? Or do you think Microsoft could benefit from a little more Web 2.0 thinking? Write to me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com and let me know what you think.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Mar 7, 2006 mbg Anonymous

I think that there's a bit more to Web 2.0 than what the first poster says. It's about making user contributions available in a format that can be automatically harvested by others.

I feel uneasy about it, because I think it's motivated by distrust of professionals, and the perception that "unbiased" (but also unqualified) people can do better than professionals because professions have been bastardized by money grubbers. (note that I said "the perception that...", and that this is not my opinion).

Web 1.0 already kicked this off with medical advice websites and other kinds of conflicting DIY information. What Web 2.0 seems to want to do is put a structure around this so that the data can be aggregated and used in "products".

It's a nice idea, but I trust professionals more than I trust a collection of anonymous users. Of the Internet population, most people don't contribute, and a lot of the ones that do aren't qualified enough to warrant recognition of their contributions. Web 2.0 advocates will tell you that the community will decide who's right and who's wrong, but one of the main reasons that we have professionals is that the great unwashed can't be trusted to decide what's valuable and what's not. I admit that many markets have been corrupted somewhat, but it'd be even worse without professional standards.

I don't really see Web 2.0 as anything more than one generation wanting to take the reins away from another generation (and, I'm part of the former). That's all it is.

Mon, Mar 6, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

I don't see the problem; Web 2.0 is a bunch of long-overdue updates to HTML: drag-and-drop uploads, spreadsheet-like functionality, tree control, etc., plus some programming support. It's less ambitious than, say, web forms, and a whole lot more useful. It will make things people are doing with JavaScript and web sites already a little cleaner and a little easier to use. I don't see how that is either bad or how it can fail.

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