My first job in software was with a company that built an online price comparison service. There were about 10 engineers there, some of the most brilliant and dedicated people I ever worked with. The company built its own crawler software for gathering data, its own client software, downloaded by users to get this data on their desktops and its own server software for feeding that client (the client was quite complex in its own right, doing web crawls etc itself). We worked long hours, grew eventually to almost 100 employees, got a little fame but missed on the fortune, then dot.com went south and the company closed.
That was Web 1.0.
About 4 years later, myself and another friend from that company built a similar app for another company. We used LAMP to power the server side, XML to communicate to a very thin client embedded in the users’ browser, another company’s service for the actual price data and had the whole thing working in about a month or two, working about 3 days a week from our homes. The product started generating money as soon as it was launched, the company never grew beyond 5 or 6 people and as far as I know still sees nice profits.
There was no tagging folksonomy nor even an RSS feed in sight, and yet this for me is Web 2.0. It was a completely Web-based business that made more money than it cost.
Art and philanthopy and just cool work have a well deserved place in this world, but when you want to find out if a business is a bubble or not, there’s a time honored way to judge that: products that are valuable to people tend to generate some money.
It seems odd to me people are wondering if Web 2.0 is a bubble. Just read Techcrunch any given day and ask yourself how many products mentioned there you will ever use. Then ask how many of those you would pay for using. Then think how many of those left your friends that don’t know what RSS is will pay for. The only question is the size of that bubble. Thankfully, it seems these are multiple small bubbles, of a few $100K each, and many of them are run by people who survived the first bubble, so they do realize the need to make their products pay in the near future.
Meanwhile, enjoy the ride. It is a lot of fun and you can get to do good stuff that will outlive any bubble, just don’t take it all to heart too much.