Web 2.0 meaning?

January 30, 2007

Web 2.0 was a phrase coined in 2004 by Dale Dougherty and Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, a publishing and conference firm, to describe second generation internet services The phrase has made the authors a lot of coin too through their annual Web 2.0 conference for the Silicon Valley aristocracy and glitterati. But what does Web 2.0 actually mean and is it a useful concept?

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Originally Web 2.0 was tightly defined and usefully separated the static web pages of the 1990s from those using software such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) that makes web pages look like dynamic software applications. Moreover, these applications can work with each other in “mash-ups” as powerfully illustrated by Google Maps.

Google Maps is being constantly updated and can share its data with other websites to create some remarkable tools – everything from HealthMap.org that draws on WHO and Euro Surveillance data to plot a frightening collection of disease outbreaks across the planet to Gothamist.com that constantly updates the whereabouts of everything from amputations and shootings to fires and suspicious packages in New York City. A Google Maps mash-up that tracks and allows communication between journalists is just one development proposed for the upcoming revamped Frontline Club site.

Since 2004 the meaning of Web 2.0 has morphed to embrace social networks, blogging, podcasting, wikis and all the internet applications that make up the “participatory web”. Nowadays no two definitions are quite the same and as Paul Boutin observed in Slate magazine “after Newsweek released the word Kong-like from its restraining quotes” Web 2.0 is in danger of becoming a meaningless term. Other critics such as Tim Berners-Lee agree.

Tim O’Reilly holds that the key characteristics that define Web 2.0 are using collective intelligence, harnessing network effects, providing interactive services and giving people control over their own content. There is certainly no argument that these characteristics let the Web 2.0 pin-ups like Wikipedia, Flickr and MySpace dramatically outpace their rivals. Their 1.0 cousins such as Encarta, KodakGallery and Geocities have been left limping along behind.

The ongoing Pew Internet and American Life Project has taken a “user-centric” approach to shortlist contenders for online activities with Web 2.0 characteristics. Frontline Club members were recently asked about their own online activities and the following chart outlines the initial findings* with a clear embrace of Web 2.0.

However Web 2.0 is defined it is clear that sites that create strong networks, encourage interactivity and give people control over their content will be the clear winners over their more static rivals. And perhaps unsurprisingly the Web 2.0 Conference in Silicon valley is already talking about Web 3.0.

* These figures need to be treated with caution as they are based on a small sample
size. Frontline Club members are invited to complete a questionnaire (available from the bar) get the full results and get a free drink as a thank you for taking part.