Web 2.0ι: Imaginary Origins Computers & Writing 2010 ACCEPTED PROPOSAL

Abstract

Popular analyses of "Web 2.0" often describe its nature, development, and consequences inaccurately. Many of these descriptions are myths, imagined narratives that provide a simplified and compelling meaning for situations that are far more complex. And sometimes — but only sometimes — that might be a problem.

Proposal

Many popular analyses of "Web 2.0", including some from major figures such as Tim O'Reilly, are if not outright inventions at least wildly inaccurate, particularly in the histories they seem to feel obliged to tell. Put simply, these descriptions are myths: imagined narratives of iconic actors and events, providing simplified and compelling explanations for situations that were and are in reality far more complex. Yet these myths are widely read, repeated, and cited with little critical reflection, and even critics of the Web 2.0 concept rarely thoroughly investigate the factual claims of Web 2.0 enthusiasts.

Oftentimes that's fine. These myths are fascinating rhetorical objects in themselves, and for many purposes it's more useful to know what tastemakers and pundits believe Web 2.0 is than how it might appear in a larger, more objective context.

But when digital rhetoric and cognate fields become more engaged with questions of historical change, economics, or how the development of information technology in general affects creative computer use — as they do in the growing field of software studies — we must distinguish among the available narratives by their degree of correspondence to verifiable empirical data. There, stories of Web 2.0 that more closely fit historical, economic, and contextual data are needed, and we have to tell them apart from the myths.

After critiquing some Web 2.0 myths and their claims, I plan to discuss when and why such myths are or aren't useful, and then sketch out a project for a robust history of Web 2.0.