Almost a month ago, Kathy Sierra wrote a blog post about Why Web 2.0 is more than a buzzword, and it quickly shot up the blog linkage charts. Controversial phrase, about which Kathy spat out several questions…

Many people hate the phrase “Web 2.0” even more than they hate what they believe it represents. No, that’s not quite right… many people hate the phrase precisely because they think it represents nothing. Or they’re annoyed by the idea of a web version number. Or they think it’s “elitist.” Or they’re convinced it’s so much marketing hype. But what if it’s not an empty phrase? What if it’s simply a way of representing a concept that some people DO understand? What if it’s like so many other domain-specific terms that sound like nonsense to everyone else?

From there she launches a discussion about the difference between buzzwords and jargon… the former being bad, often wrongly used simply to impress, the latter being good, a form of shorthand between people in the know. Think of it this way… people for whom “Web 2.0” is not jargon can easily mistake it for a buzzword (and if you think Web 2.0 is a bad one, read up on WiMax).

So… back to “Web 2.0”–I’ll admit that this one’s trickier than most domain-specific phrases because it wraps many different–and big and ill-defined–concepts. But when Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty (the guy who first coined the term) talk about Web 2.0, it represents something real and specific and meaningful. Over time, a lot of other people (especially those who’ve spent time around them, including me) have come to understand at least a part of what they’ve encapsulated in that one small phrase. “Web 2.0” may be the least understood phrase in the history of the world, but that still doesn’t make it meaningless.

Right. So what’s “2.0” about “Web 2.0” anyway? Think collaboration. Think empowering the end user. Think about the fact that Time Magazine just named You the Person of the Year (interstitial ad warning). No, not you personally, but you as in the crowd. In describing their choice against a single stand-out individual for 2006, they wrote,

look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It’s not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution.

When I first heard about Time’s selection, I thought it was lame. I’m not yet entirely conviced that’s a misdiagnosis, but I’m reconsidering. After all, there are signs here that Time is really recognizing a revolution… a genuine one. Back around 2002, in another context, I wrote,

The Internet is changing the world, and invites you to participate. …And the statement is true. People are becoming impatient with businesses that don’t maintain websites — they’ll deal elsewhere, thank-you. People are losing touch with acquaintances who don’t have email addresses and getting to know better the friends who do. Even people who don’t yet buy cars online might do their homework online, and walk into a dealer’s showroom knowing more than the salesman does, both about the vehicle and the price he or she should pay for it. The world is just not the same place anymore.

Yeah, but inviting you to participate? Can you make a difference? In a word, yes. Nortel Networks used to ask, “What do you want the Internet to be?” They were referring to their own “new high performance Internet,” but don’t give them too much credit — the Internet will be shaped with or without them, and it’s people who will determine what the Internet will be. Does your lone voice make a difference? You bet it does. It makes a difference when a lone student stares down a tank in China, and it makes a difference when somebody picks up a sledgehammer in the middle of Berlin. And online, your voice counts.

What we began to see much more clearly in 2006 was the realization of this concept… the web being shaped by it citizens. Regular everyday citizens, that is. The membership card is basically free, and the entry-level card is an all-access pass. Okay, I’m quitting this metaphor before it goes someplace I’m not expecting.

The point of this post isn’t entirely about Web 2.0… I’m thinking about Church 2.0, and how the foregoing might apply. Much of what Web 2.0 is teaching us is applicable directly or indirectly to what we’re learning or observing about Church 2.0.

First, the difference between “buzzwords” and “jargon” …what does Church 2.0 have as either? For starters, “missional” is a buzzword on the outside, but it’s jargon to those in the know. The emerging church is certainly not short of concepts, models, and ideas that are applied at the periphery without fully grokking them, leaving them in danger of moving from the realm of jargon to that of buzz… AKA, “death by popularity.” In this area, there is a fair bit of misunderstanding, and a lot of people dislike the emerging church because of what they believe it represents, or because they think it represents nothing. Not so.

Second, and most fundamentally, is participation. Probably the single biggest feature of Church 2.0 is destined to be the phenomenon of individual members actually being the church rather than simply attending all the performances of church. I’m not meaning to merely criticize the inherited church with this observation… what I see is an extension of the inherited church and a flattening of the org chart to become more of a Church 2.0 structure and modus operandi.

Church 2.0, Kathy Sierra, Person of the Year, Web 2.0

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