From Web 2.0 to Web WTF

<really long rant>

This post is for all my friends and colleagues who work in digital. We used to call it the IT industry, but now we just call it digital, and if this industry wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask it to slow the fuck down. I never thought I would miss the Web 2.0 days, but in all honesty, I would do anything to turn back technological time. I wish cell phones were just cell phones again and I wish no one ever invented the cloud.

Now, we build websites and apps. We design software user interfaces and digital marketing campaigns. We create content for more social media networks than I can keep up with, and we have to make sure everything we do works on a bazillion different permutations of operating systems, browsers, devices and screen sizes, not to mention all the audiences, personas and strategies. There are no less than ten competing varieties of every kind of platform and technology, and vendors are popping up every day selling all kinds of different services which are all supposed to provide some kind of marketing miracle for all the poor shmucks who make a living sell things or helping people sell things.

And I am one of those poor shmucks.

Now, we have to figure out how to design and build all sorts of digital things so they work on all sorts of devices and, in the agency world, we have to do that with clients of all kinds breathing down our necks.

I remember when the VP of Creative Services came back from the Internet Retailer Conference one year and said, “If I hear the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ one more time, I’m going to kill someone.” But as a project manager, the Web 2.0 days made me giddy. Finally, finally, we could create in code, almost anything a designer could imagine. We could create rounded corners using CSS and if the designer got too crazy we could always call the flash guys. Finally, I didn’t have to explain to designers (and clients) why we couldn’t do things because coding technology had finally caught up with Photoshop. And this progress was happening in parallel with the platform-ization of the digital landscape. And platforms were great, platforms got installed and customized instead of built from scratch. And if you didn’t get too crazy with the design, you could leverage the platform and limit most of the heavy lifting to CSS. And CSS, we never really thanked that technology thoroughly because we were getting caught up in all the other progress.

But at this point, I really do just want to turn back time. Because how the hell are we all supposed to keep up? I used to joke that this wasn’t rocket science, but I’m tired of keeping up and responsive website design didn’t turn out to be the godsend it seemed like it was going to be. I remember being in the let’s-let-flash-die camp, but now, I can hardly remember why. Oh, right, it was the smart phone. That’s why we needed flash to die. Because those two technologies couldn’t play nice together, or at least that’s what I remember after so much technological water under the bridge.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what point in time I would like to turn us back to, but it was somewhere around the advent of the smart phone. But those early days of the smart phone weren’t too bad. All of a sudden we had all these new projects. Suddenly, companies didn’t need one website, they needed two websites. And no one expected the mobile website to be nearly as cool as the regular website, so it wasn’t so hard. No one minded, the use of really janky “wrapper” technology and those were the glory days of web services and custom API development. Yes, we had problems with data synching and the mobile websites we were cranking out were kind of clunky. But everyone felt so cool with their new smart phones it took them a minute to get hyper-entitled about usability and page load times. Things were starting to get complicated, but at least back then we could easily justify separate, additional budgets for the development and maintenance of mobile properties. And really, the expectations were relatively low, both on the client side and on the user side.

But now, everyone wants everything. They want the website and the iOS app and the android app and they want the strategy for the website and the app. And they want the social media campaign and the search engine optimization, and they want the social media campaign to work miracles while the paid media campaign has a zero dollar budget. They want viral video and cartwheeling menu buttons which all work seamlessly across any device you can think of. They want data of all kinds and they want everything to be integrated with backend systems even if those backend systems are dangerously out of date because the parts of the website no one can see never get any of the budgetary love. Everyone wants to lower their overall cost of ownership, but no one wants to face the pink elephant in the room which is a digital ecosystem which was been taped together over the years by a revolving string of marketing and technology resources who were all just doing the best they could with what they had that month all while racing to keep up.

If you’re lucky, you work at a company which survives by nibbling on one or two relatively isolated slices of the digital marketing budget pie. If you’re kind of lucky, you work client-side where you have to worry about the totality of the digital landscape, but only for one brand. But if you’re not lucky, you work at an agency, that does everything.

Regardless of how lucky you may or may not be, my job and the jobs of my friends and colleagues are appreciably harder than they were eight years ago and the budgets are tighter than ever due to the continued slicing of the marketing budget pies. But there comes a point when marketing professionals must admit that a pie sliced into too many pieces is no longer edible.

And really, people want everything. People want websites that are the most awesome things ever no matter what they are trying to sell. The website needs to work miracles and drive engagement like no one has ever seen. The website needs to look perfect even on the marketing director’s nephew’s android phone when he turns it sideways at dinner to show her something. The website needs to be easy to update and the website needs to look as awesome on your iphone as it does at on your work computer. Never mind that your work computer is running IE8 on Windows XP because the giant corporation you work for hasn’t updated, or can’t update, their software due to some other old technology dependency. Oh, and that website which is all responsive and shit which really does look so awesome on your iphone, the same one that needs to work on your work computer with IE8, it also has to be ADA compliant so a blind person can use it on their ipad, in portrait mode. Oh, and that website, it also has to fit the design sensibility of someone’s boss, whose design sensibilities are stuck in the Web 2.0 days. And worse, the design of that website is going to be performed by committee, and we all know that is never good.

And of course, everyone wants everything yesterday and it’s not just users who want everything. Industry professionals who are well aware of the exponentially complicated nature of what we do, are genuinely surprised when a website built two years ago for less than market value doesn’t work on a first generation kindle fire in portrait mode.

Sigh.

Later today, I will reapply my happy face and I will not let progress get the best of me. But sometimes, I really do wish I could turn back the digital clock to the good old Web 2.0 days.

</really long rant>

More about Wanda  •  Shapiro Novels by Wanda Shapiro


2 Responses to From Web 2.0 to Web WTF

  1. Ryan F says:

    Wanda, I have to say your cynical (yet humorous) tone is definitely not falling on deaf ears. I am in the same boat as you, while I watch this happening in our company, and I want change. What I really want is a cultural change, one that hinges on the overall level of understanding of what drives websites to be increased. People now spend so much… SO MUCH time on the internet, its painful that so much is also transparent to them. Alas, one step at a time. Good read, good read.

  2. Brian says:

    I think I love you Wanda. It’s like you read my mind.

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