What Web 2.0 Means to You

Opinion: The next generation of the Web is agnostic and interactive, giving more control to the user through services, lightweight interfaces and hard-to-recreate data sources.

Many of you are probably seeing the term "Web 2.0" a lot lately, but what does it mean? Im sure some people see it and think, "Wow! I didnt know the Web had release cycles like regular products."

Basically, Web 2.0 is a marketing term OReilly Media coined a few years ago when it was planning a conference to cover significant Web changes.

But the term has gained a lot of traction, and one sees it not only in discussions of Web technologies but also in product literature as, predictably, many vendors start to position products as "Web 2.0-ready."

Its therefore important for technology decision makers to understand what Web 2.0 really means, but that might be harder than it sounds.

Two of the biggest technologies behind Web 2.0 are blogging and RSS, both of which are more misunderstood than members of the Web 2.0 community think.

/zimages/3/28571.gifWeb 2.0 label lacks meaning and magic. Click here to read more.

Recently, for example, several friends and family members have asked me what a blog is. And, at a conference I spoke at, I was asked by IT staffers to explain what this "RSS thing" I kept mentioning is.

The term Web 2.0 itself is somewhat confusing and has caused some divisiveness in the community. Some argue that the Web is well beyond the 2.0 stage and that we should be saying something like Web 8.0.

Im in the camp that believes that much of what Web 2.0 is about comes directly from Tim Berners-Lees original vision of the Web. You only need to read his book, "Weaving the Web," to see that he envisioned the highly participatory Web were moving toward and not the static Web from whence we came.

This means that the early Web was really a beta, and we are only now approaching Web 1.0.

Helpfully, OReilly founder and CEO Tim OReilly has put together a comprehensive document that tries to explain Web 2.0. (You can read it here.)

Its a fairly long and exhaustive explainer, but Tim summarizes by listing what he thinks is at the core of Web 2.0: services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability; control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them; trusting users as co-developers; harnessing collective intelligence; leveraging the "long tail" through customer self-service; software above the level of a single device; and lightweight user interfaces, development models and business models.

Lets try to break some of these down.

The services part is pretty obvious. Most Web 2.0 technologies tend to be both service- and server-based and not desktop applications. With regard to data sources, Tim seems to see that the data behind these products is the main value proposition, whether it is Amazons product database, Googles massive collections of everything or eBays auction listings.

The part about trusting users as co-developers and harnessing collective intelligence is, for many, key to Web 2.0 technology.

Products from blogs to RSS to Firefoxs extension model encourage users not only to add content and data but also to extend and improve the original technology.

The "long tail" tends to apply to sales. Rather than a hits-based economy, where you sell one thing to lots of people, the modern Web enables an economy where you sell a lot of things to small groups of people.

In the context of Tims document, it means that value in Web 2.0 comes from the edges and users rather than from companies in the middle or big servers.

/zimages/3/28571.gifShould we care about Web 2.0? Click here to read more.

The last two points basically mean that a good Web 2.0 product should be agnostic—not tied to specific operating systems, platforms or devices—and that it should be open and easily integrated with, using standards and other non-proprietary methods.

However, the best advice comes relatively early in Tims document and kind of proceeds from the old idea that if you have to say youre an honest person, then you probably arent.

Tim says that a real Web 2.0 product spreads through word of mouth and grass-roots enthusiasm, and if a product is advertising itself as a Web 2.0 product, then it probably isnt.

Hey, that actually helps.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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