The dictatorship of the presentation layer

Bill Thompson is eloquently sceptical about Web 2.0. (I prefer the term techBubble 2.0 btw.) Here’s a sample of his Register blast:

If Web 2.0 is the answer then we are clearly asking the wrong question, and we must not be fooled by the cool sites and apparently open APIs. Most of the effort is – literally – window dressing, designed to attract venture capitalists to poorly-considered startups and get hold of enough first-round funding to build either a respectable user base or enough barely runnable alpha code to provide Google or Yahoo! with yet another tasty snack. We need to take a wider view of what is going on.

Back in the 1870s Karl Marx outlined the steps through which he believed a capitalist society needed to pass before it could reach socialism. After the revolution came the dictatorship of the proletariat, a painful but necessary stage of oppression and correction, during which the organs of the state would whither away as humanity achieved its true potential and coercion became unnecessary.

Web 2.0 marks the dictatorship of the presentation layer, a triumph of appearance over architecture that any good computer scientist should immediately dismiss as unsustainable.

Ajax is touted as the answer for developers who want to offer users a richer client experience without having to go the trouble of writing a real application, but if the long term goal is to turn the network from a series of tubes connecting clients and servers into a distributed computing environment then we cannot rely on Javascript and XML since they do not offer the stability, scalability or effective resource discovery that we need.

There is a massive difference between rewriting Web pages on the fly with Javascript and reengineering the network to support message passing between distributed objects, a difference that too many Web 2.0 advocates seem willing to ignore. It may have been twenty years since Sun Microsystems trademarked the phrase ‘the network is the computer’ but we’re still a decade off delivering, and if we stick with Ajax there is a real danger that we will never get there…M/blockquote>