Web 2.0- A Synthetically Organic Nomenclature

Posted by on Jun 15, 2009


I’m of the conviction that the term “Web 2.0” is inherently problematic.  There are many who maintain that the nomenclature provides a needed context for the changing nature of the web.  I would maintain it does much more to deter understanding than provide any functional enlightenment.

Proponents of the term state that the nature of the web has evolved in an organic fashion, and thus, we must qualify that new nature.  The web is now interactive, collaborative, and dynamic instead of static, nonreciprocal, and isolated.  While I certainly acknowledge the fact that the web has evolved over the past ten years, it remains, at its very core, still the web.  The addition of the 2.0 on the term only serves to confuse.

I heard, on quite a few occasions, teachers at a recent technology conference utter their confusion at the term.  One teacher asked where the url was for the web 2.0.  Another teacher stopped a panel discussion focused entirely on “Web 2.0” tools to ask “what in the world” the term meant.  I think that is the rule, rather than the exception in the circles of general educators.  It’s a problem that the term immediately confuses and alienates the very people who would be best served to make use of the tools and concepts the new nature of the web presents.  If we used terminology that is exponentially more clear from the outset, such as “Interactive Web” or “Social Learning Web”, we would effectively make more headway and likely allow more students access to these experiences in their everyday learning opportunities.

I think the naming is likened to the naming conventions of cars.  Hear me out on this.  Cars have changed dramatically over the last 100+ years they’ve been around, yet they remain, at their very nature, still cars.  If at every iteration of change, we added the requisite 2.0, 3.0, and so on, what number would we be up to today?  When I’m going to go out and get something out of my car, I seldom yell out to my wife, “I’m going to run out to the mid-sized Japanese import car 10.0 and get the baby’s blanket.”  I just say car.  Because that’s what it is.  Yes, there are different kinds of cars.  There are Fords, Chevys, Hondas, Toyotas, Bugattis, and hosts of others.  There are even different types of cars beyond a manufacturer’s name.  We have SUVs, hybirds, pickup trucks, sports cars, minivans, and the like, but those naming conventions make sense.  They call the cars what they are.  We already have the equivalent in our web naming structure.  We have blogs, wikis, content management sites, social networking, learning networks, and so on.  All of these, at their nature, remain aspects of the web- a changing web, yes, but still simply the web.

A term like web 2.0 begets the notion that there will imminently be a 3.0, 4.0, and beyond.  The convention serves those within a specific group much more than it does those who need to understand the concept the most.  The term serves as a layer- an immediately unnecessary layer at that.  The convention allows those inside the realm of understanding to point to those outside and express how much the outsiders need the insiders in order to understand and be enlightened.  I’d rather we just all moved forward together in a way that makes sense and promotes progress rather than bifurcates.

And I really don’t take this issue as another instance of “let’s fight over the name of something” as much as that might appear what this post is all about.  Okay, so maybe it sort of is, but it isn’t just about the name.  It’s about what happens as a result of the name.  The web is, in my opinion, the greatest development in modern history.  And unfortunately, too many aren’t using it as such.

I know this one post won’t serve to change the way most people use the Web 2.0 term, but I hope it will give cause for some consideration.  The English language is a precise language.  I truly believe if we used it as such here, we would see one roadblock removed from the progress we should be making in engaging our students in dynamic learning.  And I’m entirely in favor of doing that which removes roadblocks and moves progress forward.

And now I’m stating such- on the web.

Thanks to xxxtoff for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Doug Belshaw
    June 15, 2009

    We had a conversation about this on EdTechRoundUp a while back. I think we pretty much agreed that ‘Web 2.0’ as a term is meaningful only to the Twitterati. Why? Teachers who are new to all this don’t know ‘1.0’ even looked like.

    I’m with you Ben, but we play the hand we’re dealt when it comes to naming unfortunately. Communication is all about understanding and meaning, after all…

  2. Brian C. Smith
    June 15, 2009

    Thanks for this post. I think this is an important conversation as I wrote about in my Maybe it’s Semantics post last year. I’m not sure my use of social media instead has helped, but I’m not even sure I consistently call it that either. Maybe I’m just adding to the confusion.

    I really like Sylvia’s perspective on this from her “empty vessel” post and that “we can all agree that “Classroom 2.0″ is a good thing, because each of us fills that empty vessel with our own idea of what a new version of a classroom looks like.”

    And that, in my opinion, is what it’s all about, customizing learning and teaching based on the tools available.

  3. Erin Misegadis
    June 15, 2009

    You’re absolutely right, most teachers don’t know what “web 2.0” is supposed to be. Not only that, but neither do many students. A few months ago at a Student Technology Leadership event I asked students if they were familiar with the term and they all shook their heads. When I explained what web 2.0 was they looked at me like I was a crazy person. They said “That’s just the internet.” And of course they don’t know what “web 2.0” is, it’s always been that way for them! There seems to be such a small minority of us that know what web 2.0 is, and it seems we’re increasingly tired of hearing the term thrown around. Not that I have any real solution for our “web 2.0 situation,” but I am certainly glad I’m not the only one frustrated with it.

  4. Daniel
    June 15, 2009

    I think you have a point. It seems like a lot of people are seeing web 2.0 as a trend that is still evolving and thus would need to take on a new name of 3.0 even. Web 2.0 however was added as an official English word now, so whether the new versions will actually take off or not remains to be seen (perhaps a different number for each generation?).

  5. Diane Main
    June 15, 2009

    Do you prefer the term “Read-Write Web”?

  6. Steve Ransom
    June 16, 2009

    I think we have naming conventions for everything… even for things that we already do while remaining unfamiliar with the exact label. How many teachers use elements of “reciprocal teaching” or “didactic” pedagogy without being familiar with the labels they are formally given? We have a “clutter” of cats, a “skulk” of foxes, a “horde” of hamsters, and a “parliament” of owls. I think we can all agree that the name is less important than the meaning or action behind the label. However, we need to work from a common vocabulary in order to efficiently communicate at a certain level.
    I agree with you that the term “web2.0” does little to communicate the meaning of what the label represents (as does Sylvia Martinez in her post that Brian linked to), and that it is the very affordances and opportunities behind that label that are of most importance. But I don’t think that there is really one good label to descriptively represent them all. I have no problem with the label if examples and explanations of these new opportunities and affordances are at the heart of all of our conversations. If they are, then the label is understood just as any other label. As one becomes comfortable with the meaning, the label is then used fluently with understanding. So, when we know our audience is new to the ideas that “web2.0” represents, we have to be certain to let the examples and opportunities define the label. And, if there is a better label or phrase that describes what we are talking about, then perhaps “web2.0” should not be used at all. I have learned with my own students that if I simply try to define “web2.0” didactically, they don’t really get it. Like most things, we learn best through experiences within social contexts – you know, “web2.0” kinds of learning 😉

    As Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I know it’s a stretch, but I think there’s a parallel somewhere there.

  7. mrsdurff
    June 19, 2009

    What about pushmi-pullyu web ? A colleague recently brought up the same – that our current nomenclature not only turns people away but can be so difficult that comprehension is insurmountable.
    I remember asking my IT friend what these terms meant back in early 2005. She had no idea. Still doesn’t. But her teenage kids explained it to me. I immediately understood and jumped on, as it were, the web 2.0 train.
    Was it their initial explanation, that one from people like coolcatteacher, and ETT folk, or something else? I have no idea.
    The point is, we have to make all of this magic accessible to the masses. On Twitter we are still amazing audiences with shout-outs. Still. Shouldn’t we be beyond that stage?
    Renaming is part of jumping the hurdles beyond.

  8. Brady Cline
    July 1, 2009

    Ben ~ I hate that I always agree with you. I’d go even further than the other commenters though: people don’t know what Web 2.0 means because it doesn’t actually have any denotative meaning. The wide range of connotations, however, make it almost useless.

  9. links for 2009-07-03 | Señorita Murrell
    July 3, 2009

    […] Web 2.0- A Synthetically Organic Nomenclature (tags: necc) […]

  10. concretekax
    July 3, 2009

    My question is what term do you use when introducing the “tools” and techniques of blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, skype, digital storytelling, etc.

    Twenty-first century learning has also been criticized because many of these techniques have been done before just not always on the web.

    For most teachers this represents new tools and a new teaching style (although it truly is not new). What do we call it when introducing it to them? Student-centered, constructivist, real-world, problem-solving. collaboration using internet tools? I would prefer something shorter????

  11. Debate Over Listservs: Web 1.0 or 2.0? « The Technorate Teacher
    July 25, 2009

    […] fall very much in line with Ben Grey’s thinking in his post Web 2.0 – A Synthetically Organic Nomenclature. I feel that the distinction between Web 1.0 and 2.0 is tenuous at best, and confusing at worst.  […]

  12. Steve Dembo
    July 30, 2009

    Well written post and I think you make some great points. My gut reaction is to disagree though for one reason primarily: You use these tools that are dubbed “web 2.0” differently than you used to use traditional websites.

    You use the car example. A car is a car, right? And yet as you point out, we do have qualifiers like “Truck” and “Hybrid”. People do say, “I’m going to hop in my truck and go to the store.” Is that confusing to someone that doesn’t know what a truck is? Maybe. And where is the line drawn between a truck, SUV, wagon and car? Pretty blurry at times.

    I think you could make the same argument about phones. A phone is a phone, right? Do you REALLY need to specify a landline versus a cordless phone versus a mobile phone? They’re all just phones, and maybe kids today wouldn’t really care one way or the other what the difference is. But the qualifiers are there for a reason.

    You mention that many teachers don’t understand the difference between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0, or that there ever was a 1.0. I’d imagine that most of those same people may not know that there are web based tools that can be used for photo editing, word processing and to create presentations. Or that they can create a classroom website for themselves with no more technical skills than it takes to send an email. And in particular for those people, the distinction is relevant.

    Why does it matter for them to understand what Web 2.0 is? Because their classroom blog is fundamentally different than the district website, and they do need to know how and why.

    Yes, the distinction deserves a better name. It’s even worse than Coke II. And it’d be helpful if there were a formal definition. But that’s what happens when a term mentioned in casual conversation goes viral. I’m with you about removing roadblocks, but I don’t think changing the term will turn confusion to comprehension. that’s why I think it’s still as important as ever to do Blog 101, Wikis 101 and Podcasting 101 sessions.

  13. John Easo
    August 15, 2009

    Well written blog! While web2.0 can bring in great benefits, for education purpose, we need to worry about also having all other relevant features that can be aided by technology. And more importantly techniques which students and teachers can effectively leverage online. A very good example of such a system is a online flashcard system with web2.0 based collaboration. Also do not miss the ‘funnel’ concept which is one of the biggest benefits to the users of this system. No wonder it has attracted many teachers and students already.

  14. mrsdurff
    September 14, 2009

    Why not “Collaborative Web”? Let’s take a vote!


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