For years, pundit and futurist Esther Dyson has published an influential newsletter for IT experts called Release 1.0, but when it came time to write a book she knew it was better to call it Release 2.0.Even at the height of the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, no one was referring to Web 1.0, but this year Web 2.0 has been among the most widespread ways of categorizing emerging collaborative software startups. Where Red Herring, the Industry Standard and other mainstream U.S. technology magazines collapsed, Business 2.0 next year will celebrate its fifth anniversary, but don’t expect a redesign as Business 3.0. Next June, a conference organized by O’Reilly Media Inc. will explore a “new direction in technology.” You guessed it: It will be called Where 2.0.
In terms of branding, 2.0 has become this decade’s “e.” In the Internet’s first mainstream wave, “e” was all you needed to show customers, partners and shareholders you had automated a business process, product or service to take advantage of the Web. It was around that time that Scott McNealy, whose Sun Microsystems was riding the boom’s coattails, pushed the “e” to the extreme.
“If you haven’t done it yet, you better get your e-running shoes on, because there’s an e-bear in the woods,” I heard him tell a Canadian club luncheon. What’s shocking is that I’m sure everyone in the audience knew exactly what he meant. E-business, was shorthand for an enterprise that was prepared to participate and compete effectively in the new economy. Though there are clear similarities, 2.0 means something slightly different.
If “e” was the membership badge companies used to gain entry into Web-based commerce, 2.0 is the lapel pin worn by those who paid their dues. To use a jargon-related analogy, 2.0 suggests a market, technology or company has passed through the beta stage of product development. That’s not to suggest there won’t be bugs or fixes 2.0 entities will encounter, but as a next-generation . . . something, they are intended to be more ready for prime time.
As a euphemism for “new and improved,” 2.0 is curiously time-constrained. To call something 3.0, for example, doesn’t necessarily pack the same punch, perhaps because it indicates the first two attempts were misfires and that the third time will hopefully be the charm. The exception is 3G networking, which suffers from the same tendency to become the term we use to describe whatever is new or next, no matter how many predecessors came before it. Will Web 2.0 firms always be 2.0, the same way New York will never be known simply as York? Or will the industry gradually come up with something else to mark a radical shift from one era of technology to another?
The appeal of 2.0 is no mystery, any more than the “e” was. Technology innovators thrive when they — and their customers — adopt a beginner’s mindset.

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