Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Is web 2.0 doomed to fail?

A case of 'whoops we did it again'?

Written in a hotel just outside Cadiz and dispatched to silicon.com via a low cost wi-fi service

The many reasons cited for the dot-com crash include greed, stupidity, insane optimism and an almost religious belief in a change model that was clearly unworkable. But what you never see mentioned is the lack of broadband access.

How could the dot-com revolution in entertainment, leisure, trading and working happen if people couldn't connect? And believe me, in 2000/01 there wasn't enough bandwidth to the home to support these services.

So here we are again, it looks as though history may be poised to repeat itself with web 2.0. Everywhere on the planet conferences are being convened on the topic and it is being hailed as a new beginning that will change everything. Well, not so fast!

Among the tenets of web 2.0 are:

  • Location-based services are prime
  • User-generated content dominates
  • Long tail activity equals thousands of relatively small contributors
  • Bi-directional working is essential

Hmm, I can see a couple of impediments to success here.

Starting from the last: bi-directional working means equal bandwidth for upstream and downstream transmission. Unfortunately most of the world has made the dumbest of decisions and opted for ADSL, or asymmetric digital subscriber line. This was sold by the phone companies which came to the table with an old entertainment services mindset. They also had a vested interested in selling their tired and outdated copper networks, mired by cross-talk limited performance, making it impossible to approach optical fibre transmission rates.

For starters ADSL means videoconferencing and medical applications will be severely limited and mostly doomed to failure, especially on large plasma/LCD screens that demand lots of bandwidth for lifelike communication. And of course, anyone wishing to upload homemade movies, or engage in real-time mixed reality games is going to have an equally difficult - if not impossible - time. Likewise, almost all future group networked activities will be severely limited.

I do believe the business models to support user-generated content will ultimately emerge, although it isn't clear right now just how anybody is going to make any money. And I can even see the 'long tail' activity of the thousands of contributors that will undoubtedly fail, or be consigned to the ranks of the mediocre and irrelevant, may prove to be a useful training and testing ground. But I don't see how location-based activities demanding bandwidth in both directions will make it.

So look out, it may be another 'whoops!'. Web 2.0 is fundamentally based on true bi-directional bandwidth - which most people don't have. I just hope all those people who voted for an asymmetric world back in the mid 1980s, and denied the deployment of optical fibre to the home throughout the West are feeling as sick as the proverbial parrot! So far they have lost us the games market to South Korea, and in my view that is just the beginning!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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