web 2.0 is a doing word.
Although Tim O’Reilly famously declared in 2005 that ‘Web 2.0 is not a technology, it is an attitude’, in 2009 it’s clear he’s grammatically incorrect (O’Reilly, 2005). Web 2.0 is not an “is”, or not only this. Web 2.0 is also a verb or, as they taught us in primary school, it’s a doing word. Here’s a list of some web 2.0 things to do: apping, blogging, mapping, mashing, geocaching, tagging, searching, shopping, sharing, socialising and wikkiing. And the list goes on. Yet as the list goes on it becomes apparent that part of what web 2.0 does, while doing all the things on this list and more, is colonise everything in the network. It seems that there is no part of networked thought, activity or life that is not now web 2.0. To draw up another kind of list, a list of ‘things’ that have been done over by web 2.0, we find: Gov 2.0, Identity 2.0, XHTML™ 2.0, Classroom 2.0, publish2 and Porn 2.0…and the list goes on. Anything can become or be 2.0 as long as it demonstrates or is affiliated with a certain set of qualities. A list of typical Qualities 2.0 might look something like this: dynamic, participatory, engaged, interoperable, user-centred, open, collectively intelligent and so on. Clearly an ‘attitude’ can go a long way.
What, then, do we call something that sits somewhere between doing, being and qualifying? That systematises, indexes and categorises, on the one hand, and yet, on the other, willfully overruns categories and enthusiastically keeps adding to its own lists of things, activities and characteristics? That is poised between what has just happened (web 1.0) and what will be about to happen in a minute, soon, or later (web 3.0, the semantic web, next web)? That seems ineffable, not quite there (attitude) yet is also everywhere (lists, lists and more lists)?
In light of the strange space and odd temporal dimension it inhabits, it seems appropriate to call web 2.0 an ‘event’. Something has certainly happened to the web as we knew it circa 2001 and that something is both a new technical infrastructure for online ICTs – what is now referred to as ‘an architecture of participation’ (O’Reilly, 2004) – and a change in attitude, a change in the ways we think about doing, communicating and inhabiting networks. The web 2.0 event moves the technical infrastructure of networks even closer to the transitive, to the nature of event itself. Events are things that happen to things, aren’t they? Perhaps not, especially when we are dealing with phenomena that are truly dynamic, where change, hence unpredictability and fuzziness, is their immanent modality. When we start to flesh out what the event ‘web 2.0’ comprises, it is not some thing (a technology, an attitude) happening to some thing (web 1.0, information-based networks) already existing. Rather, with its dynamic apping of education for example, web 2.0 as event also opens up the question of the event itself: when and where is it?
In this issue of FCJ, Web 2.0: before, during and after the event, we are as much interested in opening up a space for thinking how networked events might look, feel and impart themselves as we are in adding to critical thinking about particular web 2.0 phenomena. We want to put forward a proposition that goes something like this: web to the nth dimension could be a contemporary and collective movement, an event in research and thought creation, and web 2.0 might just be a version, one extended duration within that larger movement. By this, we mean that critical thinking, researching and writing about networks has entered the space and time of a phenomenal, explosive and singular event, web to the ‘n’. We want to think with/in this milieu. Web 2.0 may only be part of that broader movement in thought but it certainly presents an opportunity, perhaps a vital and critical one, to both grasp, and pause during, the event that is networked thinking. Thinking right now about web 2.0, thinking about it in critical and inventive ways, as the essays published in this issue do, is part of participating with this broader event—and of thinking networked events beyond the buzz of the immediacy of new apps, social media or service platforms.
This is also to think about the nature of events, including media events and their envelopment of/by other events. It is also perhaps to rethink the “evental” newness of what we seem to have finally stopped calling “new media”.
Thought about “the event” is complex. Thinking about, reporting on, actual events can often be banal and overly simplified. Events pile up: the football grand final, three tsunamis in the Pacific, a typhoon and several massive earthquakes in south-east Asia, an apology to the stolen generation, a change of government. The list goes on. The constant roll out and stockpiling of events serves to trivialise everything that’s going on. It’s sometimes hard to see “an event” for all the events through which it moves. Perhaps this is what prompted Gilles Deleuze to propose that “the” event, ‘is eternally that which has just happened and that which is about to happen, but never that which is happening.’ (Deleuze,1990: 8). And yet things were not so simple for Deleuze either, when it came to thinking the specificity of ‘an’ event, this event rather than that one. Here as well, Deleuze and Guattari insisted on thinking through what happened in the middle of things, taking into account the temporality of the event, and it’s being “out of time”. All events lie between that which had happened and that which was about to come into being. Event time, for them, was precisely this middle, floating time—sometimes referred to in their work as the haecciety (Deleuze and Guattari,1989: 260-2)—in which the singularity of the event is brought into being, is produced, is individuated. But rather than providing a description of a type of event (sporting, catastrophic, crowd-pleasing), their investigation of the singularity of an event’s time was ontogenetic, exploring the conditions under which an event is brought into making.
More recently, Alan Badiou has suggested that this preoccupation with ontogenesis, with the event’s ongoing production or becoming, facilitates a certain thinking of the event in which persistence and return are privileged over difference (2007: 38). For him, the event signals instead a radical break with what has been, with what has already become; it is that which allows life, time and thought to become other. Web 2.0 might very well sit between both these lofty and complex articulations of the event, as that event whose time and conditions of production must be thought again and again, and as that which must be thought differently. In this issue we asked for contributions that were able to think web 2.0 via both continuity and difference: as a break with the good old world wide web, as a continuation of certain new medial logics, and as something finite that we might well be ready to move beyond. So what has been important in orienting this FCJ issue as a contribution to thinking the event of web 2.0 is writing that does not simply report on or describe web 2.0 phenomena:
… language use is not primarily the communication of information but a matter of acting in or upon the world: event attributions do not simply describe or report pre-existing events, they help to actualize particular events in the social field. (Patton, 1997)
With this idea of the potential to actualise something that naming possesses—web 2.0 sprouts industry 2.0 exploits friends 2.0 and so on—we sought contributions that critically actualised the event of web 2.0 in the networked writing field.
Although our take on the event emphasises ongoingness, a permanent ontogenesis, rather than Badiou’s rupture, we nonetheless believe in the importance of being specific and situated, especially about media logics and histories. In his article ‘Dreams of a new medium’, Aden Evens plunges into the middle of this historio-ontogenetic methodology by examining web 2.0 in terms of both its medial antecedents and the ways in which it generates a different relation to mediation altogether. Like many new media technical dreams, he argues, web 2.0 exhibits a desire for immediacy—the desire to dissolve the medium in a soup of technically enhanced presence. This, he suggests, marks web 2.0 with a decisively different flavour from web 1.0, which proudly proclaimed its medial character through an unabashed foregrounding of the browser. Instead web 2.0 collapses the traditional “end points” of sender and receiver of the classical communication schema by suggesting that the web (2.0) is us/you:
Web 2.0 coincides authors and readers, producers and users. The collapse of the medial schema makes for a particularly strange form of mediacy, as the equation of author and audience generates a kind of immediacy by default. Self-expression and thus also self-recognition become the defining experiences of Web 2.0, such that the Web is both mediate and immediate at the same time. (Evens, 2009)
Although Evens’ article does not deal with a list or categories of aspects of web 2.0, its ability to get at a media logic (rather than a more general protocologic of networks as Galloway and Thacker’s work does), provides us with a profound explanation for the “me-ness” of all things, activities and qualities of web 2.0 today.
The critical ontogenetic approach to web 2.0 really comes into its own in Ganaele Langlois, Fenwick McKelvey, Greg Elmer, and Kenneth Werbin’s ‘Mapping Commercial Web 2.0 Worlds: Towards a New Critical Ontogenesis’. As the authors acknowledge, the feedback loop between user-driven content and participation, on the one hand, and the commercialisation of web 2.0 space by Facebook, Google and now increasingly catch-ups from Microsoft et. al, on the other hand, has been often noted and analysed. But the perspective Langlois and her co-authors bring is refreshing. They argue that this feedback loop is actively being produced and worked, and is constitutive of the web 2.0 environment itself. The shaping of commercial web spaces via technical infrastructure, code and design architectures is a conditioning activity in so far as it allows users to “use” in particular ways. Share, says Facebook for example, but don’t share alike, only with your network (market) of Facebook friends:
… commercial Web 2.0 platforms are not simply about facilitating user-produced content and carrying content across networks to large audiences ‘end-users’; rather, they are primarily concerned with establishing the technocultural conditions within which users can produce content and within which content and users can be re-channeled through techno-commercial networks and channels. (Langlois et al, 2009)
Crucially what ‘Mapping Commercial Web 2.0 Worlds’ performs is another shift away from a generalised network logic toward what the authors describe as a ‘code politics’ of web 2.0. This project complements Evens’ one of differently understanding the medial nature of web 2.0. Langlois et. al. argue that where a user might feel that communication via web 2.0 apps and plugins allows for instantaneous (immediate) recommendations of personal likes and dislikes to be sent to others via the push of a hyperlink, the “feeling” is in fact crunched via algorithmic processing and averaging of mass user profiles into patterns. The PageRank algorithm is only the most notorious example of this. A critical ontogenesis of the event of web 2.0, then, requires investigation into what processes and interests drive the coding of web 2.0 as user-generated space.
Speaking of immediacy, mediation and instantaneous effects of all kinds, as editors, authors, researchers and readers, surely the most pleasurable aspect of web 2.0 and its apps, activities and participatory warmth and fuzziness must be that ‘straight-to-web’ publishing feeling? We did want to indulge that guilty pleasure in this issue, in spite of the critical and necessary work performed by ontogenetic thought production! In what is a bit of a break with the format of past FCJ issues, we decided to re-publish some straight-to-web 2.0 articles. The section of this issue which holds the title of ‘Contexts and Provocations’ is comprised of three pieces of inspired, although non-peer reviewed (by us at any rate), writing about the phenomenon of web 2.0. The articles—’The Digital Given:10 Web 2.0 Theses’ by Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter; ‘Co-creation and the new industrial paradigm of peer production’ by Michael Bauwens; and ‘“Web 2.0?” as a new context for artistic practices’ by Juan Martin Prada—have appeared online in blogs, lists and art-projects/journals. In other words, this writing has appeared in web 2.0 environments which comprise the reflective spectrum and opportunities that participatory publishing affords contemporary concept creation. It was important to us that this issue of FCJ reflected and bounced-off those spaces, capturing some of their immediacy, intensity and effort; the effort of producing ideas in the push-pull, collapsed, medial ecology of apps, lists, loud and whispering others that is this very web to the nth dimension, we are trying to collectively enunciate through this issue. Rather than explicate these articles here, we urge you to go straight to them and read them in dialogue with our peer-reviewed section, to sit amidst the varying speeds of differing movements—immediate and reflective—in networked thinking.
What happens if, while the event is playing itself out, it turns out to be radically different from what has been anticipated? What if it doesn’t deliver on its promises and perhaps even fails? As Ien Ang and Nayantara Pothen bravely show us in their article, ‘Between Promise and Practice: Web 2.0, Intercultural Dialogue and Digital Scholarship’, web 2.0 hopes can often fail when put to the test. Their contribution to this issue of FCJ is important because their work reflectively discusses an actual project in which humanities’ researchers produced a customised web 2.0 environment, the diversCities project. This was designed to promote intercultural dialogue between participants in Sydney, Singapore and Mumbai. Ang and Pothen both describe and analyse the concrete design, technical, cultural and research specific issues that arose in the process of building such a project. It’s not so much that we should ‘learn’ from their ‘mistakes’. Instead what can be garnered from such an honest and detailed reflection upon contemporary modes of research production and process, are the deep assumptions and epistemological biases that still exert a hold over scholarly practice in a “digital age”, such as the felt need for gate-keeping and the habitual milieu of text-based exchange. But as the authors note, these habits and assumptions came head-to-head in the diverCities project with political and techno-utopian ideals about web 2.0 that revolve around the hope for participatory democracies.
Ben Roberts takes the critique of the assumed participatory and democratic character of web 2.0 into its own in his piece, ‘Beyond the “Networked Public Sphere”: Politics, Participation and Technics in Web 2.0’. In what is probably one of the most thoughtful critiques of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, Roberts shows that Benkler’s formulation of the network is itself steeped in a politically neutralised understanding of communication. He compares Benkler’s conclusions about networked communication leading to freer participatory possibilities (liberal neo-market-based democracies) to the work done by Bernard Stiegler and Marc Crépon. The latter challenge us to think about participation as a political-economic problem to be solved rather than a media-communications one.
Roberts, then, points us to a “beyond” web 2.0 but not one in which we are urged to seek the next next thing. Instead this “beyond” joins up with many of the questions raised by the various critiques, manifestos, raves and qualifications about web 2.0—slices of which we’ve re-published in our straight-to-web segment. Questions about the persistence of a promissary drive that continues to haunt movements of networked thought. Perhaps what is important to keep in mind about the event of web 2.0 is that, like all events, it grasps toward its own future. But what that future is, is yet to be determined. We could certainly go a long way towards a more ‘open’ determination if we admit failure, code politics and the like into a thoughtful re-evaluation of how the contours of its networked-scape are in actuality unfolding.
Anna Munster is a writer, artist and educator in the area of new media arts and theory. In 2006 she published the book Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Dartmouth College Press). She helped to found the Fibreculture Journal and is actively involved in online list cultures and their on and offline projects and events. She works collaboratively with Michele Barker in the area of immersive and multi-channel audio-visual installation, exploring the relationship of visuality and neuroscience. Munster works as an associate professor at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia. Her current research investigates dynamic media, particularly the relations between the technical aspects of networks and network visualisations on the one hand, and emergent forms of cultural and aesthetic experience on the other.
Andrew Murphie (https://www.andrewmurphie.org/) is the Founding Editor of the Fibreculture Journal and Associate Professor in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts, University of New South Wales, Australia. Recent publications include: ‘Performance as the Distribution of Life: from Aeschylus to Chekhov to VJing via Deleuze and Guattari’, ‘Differential Life, Perception and the Nervous Elements: Whitehead, Bergson and Virno on the Technics of Living’ and, with John Potts, the book Culture and Technology. Forthcoming publications include ‘Deleuze, Guattari and Neuroscience’ and, with Lone Bertelsen, ‘An Ethics of Everyday Infinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain’. He also works with Anna Munster, Brian Massumi and Adrian Mackenzie on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project: Dynamic Media: innovative social and artistic developments in new media in Australia, Britain, Canada and Scandinavia since 1990. He has in the past pretended to be an amateur VJ, as VJ Comfy, and sometimes works with the Senselab in Montréal, and with Kolding Design School, Denmark.
Badiou, Alain. ‘The event in Deleuze’, J. Roffe trans., Parrhesia 2 (2007): 37–44, https://www.parrhesiajournal.org/issue02.html.
Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin Boundas, (London: Athlone Press, 1990).
Evans, Aden. (2009), ‘Dreams of a new medium’ Web 2.0: before, during and after the event, the Fibreculture Journal, 14, https://fourteen.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-092-dreams-of-a-new-medium/
Langlois, Ganaele, McKelvey, Fenwick, Elmer, Greg, and Werbin, Kenneth. (2009), ‘Mapping Commercial Web 2.0 Worlds: Towards a New Critical Ontogenesis’,Web 2.0: before, during and after the event, the Fibreculture Journal, 14, https://fourteen.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-095-mapping-commercial-web-2-0-worlds-towards-a-new-critical-ontogenesis/.
O’Reilly, Tim. ‘The Architecture of Participation’, O’Reilly (June, 2004), https://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/articles/architecture_of_participation.html.
O’Reilly, Tim. ‘What Is Web 2.0:Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software’, O’Reilly (September, 2005), https://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html.
Patton, Paul. ‘The World Seen From Within: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Events’, Theory & Event 1.1 (1997), https://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/theory_and_event/v001/1.1patton.html.
Anna Munster and Andrew Murphie
University of New South Wales, Sydney