Thursday, October 6, 2011

So ... what version are we on?

Trying to do a bit of tidying up, I tagged a previously-untagged recent post "Web 2.0".  I did this because the post was a followup to an older post that was specifically about Web 2.0, but it felt funny.  Web 2.0 is starting to sound like "Information Superhighway" and "Cyberspace".  A quick check of the Google search timeline for the term suggests that usage peaked around 2007 and has been declining steadily since.  Always on the cutting edge, Field Notes uses the tag most heavily in 2008.

Google's timeline isn't foolproof.  Anything given a date before the late 90s is probably an article that mentioned the date (and Web 2.0) and gave no stronger indication of when the page is from.  On the other hand, the more recent portion is probably more representative, since there's more metadata around these days.  Also, the numbers are larger, which is often good for washing out errors.

But anyway, are we still in Web 2.0?  Are we up to 3.0?  Does it really matter (spoiler: probably not)?

I've argued before that while Web 1.0 was a game-changing event, Web 2.0 is more a collection of incremental improvements.  Enough incremental improvements can produce significant changes as well, but not in such a way as you can draw a clear bright line between "then" and "now".  The Linux kernel famously spent about 15 years on version 2.x, only just recently moving up to 3.0, and Linus says very clearly that 3.0 essentially just another release with a shiny new number.  From a technical standpoint I'd say we've been on Web 2.x for a while and will continue to be for a while, unless we decide to start calling it 3.x instead.

Because, of course, "Web 2.0" is not a technical term.  Never mind who uses it to what ends in what context.  The ".0" gives the game away to begin with.  A real version 2.0, if it ever exists, is very soon supplanted by 2.0.1, or 2.1, or 2.0b or whatever as the inevitable patches get pushed out, which is why I was careful to say "2.x" above.  "2.0" as popularly used doesn't designate a particular version.  It's supposed to indicate a dramatic change from crufty old 1.0 (or 1.x if you prefer).  In the real world of incremental changes, that trope will only get you so far.

Hmm ... in real life versioning usually goes more like
  • 0.1, 0.2 ... 0.13 ... 0.42 ... 0.613 as we sneak in "just one more" minor tweak before officially turning the thing loose
  • 1.0 First official release.  Everyone collapses in a heap.  The bug reports start coming in
  • 1.1 Yeah, that oughta fix it.
  • 1.1.1, 1.1.2 ... 1.1.73 ... the third number emphasizing these are just "small patches" to our mostly-perfect product -- bug fixes, cosmetic changes, behind-the-scenes total rewrites, major new features important customers were demanding, that sort of thing.
  • 2.0.1 OK, now we've got some snazzy new stuff.  Anything coming up for a while is just going to be a "minor update".  Everyone collapses in a heap.  Bug reports keep coming in.
  • 2.0.2, 2.0.3 ... yeah, we've seen this movie before
  • 5.0, because our latest version is so much better than anything you've ever seen, including our own previous versions (Actually, version 3.x ended in tears, 5.x is largely a rewrite by a different team and no one knows what happened to 4.x  -- maybe that's why one of the co-founders was sleeping under their desk and living on pizza for a couple of months?).
  • 5.0.1, 5.0.2 ... you know the drill
  • Artichoke.  Yep.  Artichoke.  Version numbers are so two-thousand-and-late [already well out of date when I wrote that ... how meta ... -- D.H Dec 2018].  We're going with vegetables now.  Already having long meetings on whether it's Brussels Sprout or Broccoli next.
  • Artichoke 1.1, Artichoke 1.2 ...

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