The Internet continues to evolve at an accelerated rate, with new technological innovations being introduced all the time. This is constantly forcing us to rethink not only how we currently use the web, but also in what new possibilities lie in the future. The rapid adoption in which these new technologies and services are being integrated into our lives, are dramatically changing the way we communicate, socialize, share and locate information, entertain ourselves and shop for goods and services. This rapidly evolving landscape of â€œnext generationâ€ technologies and companies, are being categorized as Web 2.0.
Because these applications predominately â€œliveâ€ online, a strong collaborative and collective nature is being harnessed. Where the web was once a static and passively consumed experience, it is now dynamic, transactional and interactive, where participation is not optional, it is mandatory.
It is no surprise a common characteristic of many Web 2.0 websites, applications and companies, is their use of the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) open source stack. This allows fast-growing sites to deliver performance, scalability and reliability to millions of users. MySQL enables up-and-coming Web 2.0 sites like Wikipedia, FeedBurner and digg, – as well as established web properties like Craigslist, Google and Yahoo! – to scale out and meet the ever-increasing volume of users, transactions and data.
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 can generally be thought of as the technologies and web sites who leverage users and developers in a socially collaborative manner in order to rapidly develop data and applications with a high level of integration across platforms and other services.
The term Web 2.0 was first coined back in 2004 during a brainstorming session between Tim Oâ€™Reilly of Oâ€™Reilly Media and MediaLive International, a company which puts on technology tradeshows. The term was originally intended for use as the name to describe an upcoming conference showcasing new web-based companies and technologies that had emerged post dot-com bubble. The term â€œWeb 2.0â€ has since been dismissed as a marketing buzzword, co-opted and validated several times over by various individuals and companies. It has typically been used as a way to describe the new technologies and companies that are revolutionizing the way we use and think about the World Wide Web.
Tim Oâ€™Reilly expands further on the definition of the term, in his article What is Web 2.0:
Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing others, creating network effects through an architecture of participation and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.
In the following sections we delve deeper into four ideas central to the discussion of Web 2.0, which Oâ€™Reilly and others have elaborated on since the initial emergence of the term. They include:
- Characteristics and Core Competencies of Web 2.0
- The Web is the Platform
- An Architecture of Participation
- Hierarchy of â€œWeb 2.0-ness
Characteristics and Core Competencies
Seven characteristics and core competencies of Web 2.0 are as follows:
- They should be in the business of providing services not packaged software, while enabling cost effective scalability.
- They should also exercise control over unique, difficult to replicate data sources which get richer the more individuals use and contribute to 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.
- Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models.
The Web is the Platform
The Web has become the destination where it all happens. The exchange and distribution of ideas, how we socialize, conduct business, work, and play is increasingly finding its way on to the Web. Of course, at the heart of these interactions are the people, applications and the data that drive them.
Not many years ago it would have been hard to imagine the Web as a strategically important platform for many of the things that are now common place, like trading stocks, booking travel, conducting commerce, bartering for goods and services, finding new/old friends or even a potential life mate. This perception was often due to the fact that the applications making use of the web as a platform, were often sluggish, had few security controls, were graphically uninteresting, or were held captive by the speed of the end-users internet connection. When comparing these characteristics against the existing desktop applications of the day, it is no wonder some people found it hard to imagine that the web could ever be considered a viable platform over the desktop.
Fast forward a few years and web applications are now beginning to provide close to if not better end-user experiences. The evolution we are witnessing is that of the web quickly becoming the next â€œdesktopâ€, or more specifically, the next operating platform on which applications are being designed to run on exclusively.
An Architecture of Participation
The concept of an architecture of participation is typically used to describe companies, technologies and projects, intentionally designed for contribution from developer communities and individual users with an emphasis on empowerment and openness. Often times this concept is closely linked to open source projects and companies.
It may be worth noting that a technology or company that is open source does not necessarily mean it automatically exhibits an architecture of participation. However, it is often much easier for open source companies and projects, as they will likely have a devout and often vibrant developer community. Many times proprietary products find it difficult to cultivate a participatory quality without heavy subsidization. This can be further complicated if the source code is closed, or the exposed APIs are complex, making even peripheral contributions difficult.
A â€œrelease early and release oftenâ€ development cycle, characteristic of open source software, is an excellent way to include a community of volunteers and parties with vested interests in the software, to test and help debug code. Often the introduction of new features is done in strategic locations on a website or within an application to help ascertain its popularity or usability. This helps developers understand if the feature should be more widely employed and enhanced, or abandoned all together.
An architecture of participation also relates to the idea of users creating meaningful and valuable data for themselves. Often times the application simply provides the framework and tools to empower users in this capacity. A practical manifestation of this may include seller ratings, user recommendations and restaurant reviews.
Some examples of applications which typify this concept include:
- Feeds: Users and applications allow their content to be picked up for distribution to subscribers
- Blogs: Users create site content and drive traffic
- Social Networking: Users create site content and through their social channels to build a network
- Wikis: Users contribute articles and manage the content for accuracy and relevance
Hierarchy of â€œWeb 2.0-nessâ€
Oâ€™Reilly also articulated a â€œhierarchyâ€ of degrees to which an application possesses or typifies Web 2.0 attributes.
- Level 3: Could ONLY exist on the Web and draws its essential power from the network and the connections it makes possible between people and applications.
- Level 2: Could exist offline, but has unique advantages by being online.
- Level 1: Can and does exist offline, but gains additional functionality by being online.
- Level 0: The application has primarily taken hold online, but it would work just as well offline if you had all the data in a local cache.