Californian Ideology 2.0, A First Farewell

On: October 5, 2010
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About Pim van Bree
As a student of the MA New Media my emphasis lies on making the connection between new media and cultural implications. Together with my BA in media management and digital imagineering, and with a profession as web developer, I try to focus on three sides of New Media: the commercial relevance, cultural and critical analysis, and on the actual development and programming of online implementation. Regardless, I am also a sucker for film and series. Visit where you will find my blog.


Where the internet and greater new technologies before have military origin, nowadays technologies and implementation are developed and financed by private companies and organizations. Even the backbone of the internet has become privatized, as part of its protocol, DNS, is now largely accessed by going through private parties such as Verisign, the administer of .com and .net TLDs. This was formerly a responsibility of the United States Department of Defense. Completing the demilitarizing process, GPS is going to get a European counterpart Galileo, this time not backed by military ascendancy but by civil initiative. These changes a quite significant as practically all communication and location technologies are now part of the open market or at least openly available. It is in this light the ideology and further development of web 2.0 takes place and I will therefore take a moment to retrace the ideology of the web based on the work of Turner (2006) and Barbrook (1995, 2007).

At first the military and its WOII agenda was the inducement for collaboration between the state, businesses, and research disciplines. The collaboration helped to incite development and efficient transmissions. The icons and titans of the closed world were for once involved in boundary-breaking collaborations as the harbingers of a collaborative world and information sharing, a so called mixed economy. This development gave Norbert Wiener the possibility to come up with cybernetics. Wiener saw cybernetics later as potentially destructive and should therefore be used is social context, not in the structure and domination of artificial intelligence as right wing John von Neumann pursued. In the 1960s the counterculture and New Left – not to be mixed up with each other – followed Wiener’s concerns and saw more nuclear dangers than advantages in the cold war technology and its bureaucracy. The New Left used traditional politics to change society. The counterculture contrasted the New Left with a hippie background of social movement, not political, and behavior that favored technology and cybernetics for the consumer and commodity culture which helped express the individual. Towards and in the 1990s, the hippie Left joined up with the New Right resulting in a controversial mix of Left’s individual social freedom and the aim for agora, joined with economic liberalism and free markets on the Right. Both protested the government and monopolies and supported possibilities for entrepreneurship, endeavoring technological utopianism. Together they formed the Californian Ideology. At first it was a mixed economy of a government subsidized West Coast, d.i.y. initiatives, and commerce, but now due to their own economic interests, the ‘virtual class’ lost track of their hippie roots.

So what about web 2.0? The Californian Ideology and the dot-com bubble are long past, but the ideologies that made up all movements still exist. Wikipedia for instance is based on open market mechanisms based on the underlying decentralized economy theory in The Use of Knowledge in Society by the libertarian economist F.A. Hayek as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales states. In brief Wikipedia is not a communal collaboration but leverages the individual’s power of knowledge. What is being supported by Wikipedia, libertarian policies of advocated unrestrained participation? The aim for a governed (damn you admins) encyclopedia containing untempered knowledge? Better communal and social facilitation to support the agora? Or do these three go hand in hand? Nevertheless, with a professional Wikipedia Foundation and management in place (see CPOV) is it time for Wikipedia to govern, letting anarchy go in favor of quality?

Facebook on the other hand has a different start-up background and ideology. Facebook is a result of HarvardConnection which inspired (and a whole lawsuit) Zuckerberg to connect more schools around the country with Facebook (read on). However Facebook has gone through an opposite development than Wikipedia did. As Facebook started on the East Coast’s center in Cambridge, it later moved to Silicon Valley. The libertarian ideology of market force and individualism for marketing efficiency – described in the essay of Van Dijck and Nieborg (2008) – seem to have taken over the wheel in lieu of the New Left values of community and social awareness taking the backseat.

The web 2.0 is not part of the earlier mixed economy as the pillars for applications like Wikipedia and Facebook are based on individualism, libertarianism, and the free market, counting only two (including d.i.y.) of four pillars. The values of community and social awareness, once part of the New Left, and governance are not advocated on these popular applications of web 2.0. Web 2.0 therefore is left with two sides, the company and the user.

Related to this situation, in the field of interactive marketing professionals, the social web is according to one of Forrester’s social web foreman, Jeremiah Owyang, developing towards a utopian era of social commerce. At this point we have reached social colonization where the internet’s new protocol Facebook Connect allows the barriers between social networks and traditional sites to blur. However, we are at the brink of the next era, social context, bridging websites and the individual by full customization of their web experience.

The future of the web, for instance the notion of semantic web 3.0, is a great target for prophetic statements by conference talkers and CEOs. But what they have in common is that they all participate in bookmaking by projecting current but separate ideologies on the web like commerce, authority, individualism, and a real time agora. Here David Silver (2008) agrees in his history, hype, and hope approach to web 2.0 where “corporations exist to make profits, not public goods. Usually, when they say “community” they mean “commerce,” and when they say “aggregation” they mean “advertising.” Here in northern California, what were once dot.coms are now called Web 2.0 startups, but the goal remains the same: to make millions by selling out to Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft.”

The Californian Ideology is not applicable anymore with both transformations in the venture capital of entrepreneurship – the important lifeline for ventures in the Californian Ideology – and the new and changing business models of social web 2.0. What would be interesting is to break down all ideologies of computing history and to come up with the Californian Ideology 2.0 examining the ideological forces of now and the near future.


Barbrook, Richard. Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village. London: Pluto Press, 2007: p. 14-51.

Barbrook, Richard, and Cameron, Andy. The Californian Ideology, 1995.

Silver, David. History, Hype, and Hope: An Afterward. First Monday, Vol. 13(3), 2008.

Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2006: p. 1-39.

Van Dijck, José and Nieborg, David. Wikinomics and its discontents. A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos. Media, Culture, and Society, Vol. 11(4). SAGE, 2009.

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