By Frank Spillers

What is Web 2.0? (as of Dec. 2005)

A new approach to web and web application development that is
characterized by:

  • Web sites offering free (cool) web services and tools (examples below);
  • Open source code (open API's)- software code becomes a viral marketing tool;
  • An enhanced user experience afforded by new approaches to information sharing and use of existing/new web scripting technologies;
  • Giving users the ability to share their opinions, media or to offer back to the community aka "The Architecture of Participation"
    (see Wikipedia's Web 2.0 definition) or peer-to-peer goes mainstream.

Web 2.0 seems to have taken flight in the last 10 months related to:

  • The rising popularity of social networking websites (like MySpace); online dating sites (like and social networking sites (like LinkedIn) that create more emphasis on the "Social Web".
  • Google's rising influence and use of new ways to present a map interface (Google Maps; Gmail; Google Suggest). And Amazon, Microsoft and other big players are working on what will be central to the "Web 2.0" user experience (i.e. Tagging in Amazon and RSS web feeds in IE 7).
  • Yahoo's positioning as a stakeholder in Web 2.0 with it's acquisition of Flickr photo sharing and social bookmarking services and hiring of key "Social Media" executives to spearhead the new effort. "Sharing will be everywhere," said Jeff Weiner, a Yahoo senior vice
    president in charge of the company's search services. "It's the next chapter of
    the World Wide Web". FYI: Fortune magazine ranks Yahoo! as #1 in 100 Fastest Growing Companies with a 78% revenue growth rate.
  • The shift in the one-way broadcast or publish model to a two-way flow of information where consumers are active creators in content aka User-Contributed Content (Experience Dynamics web seminar)....or what former US Vice President Al Gore calls "We Media" (see We Media 2005 Conference website).
  • A new momentum largely coming out of San Francisco; largely made up of former dot-com enthusiasts (sober but dreamy)- and a significant amount of Venture Capital dollars financing  Web 2.0 infrastructure.
  • An annual conference called "Web 2.0"(in it's second year) sponsored by O'Reilly Media (see Tim O'Reilly's What is Web 2.0?).

A word about hype

Is Web 2.0 just hype? Many large organization including Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in the technologies and projects that are driving Web 2.0. If you loathe hype (as I do), perhaps you should see it for what it is: Hype seems to be an expression of the excitement generated by something new; it is often careless, clumsy and poorly thought out- but it's real purpose is to excite and ignite the feeling of change, progress and newness.

Having said that, I think this interesting article by Russell Shaw at ZDnet, is refreshing in terms of putting the Web 2.0 "hype" into context:

"Web 2.0 is bunk. Not that the elements of this rebirth aren't there. I
write about some of them, and Richard has them nailed. It's just that
they cannot be classified under a common umbrella. They are forward
lurches of various standards and technologies, some compatible, some
not. Some revolutionary, some evolutionary, some impractical. Some are
collaborative, others are highly competitive with each other".

What's New with Web 2.0 as a technology shift?

What's different about this technology curve is that this time, user experience is on the agenda, despite the fact that Amazon's Jeff Bezos sees Web 2.0 as "about making the Internet useful for computers". (Amazon's focus is on creating viral API's with Amazon Web Services). To give Bezos credit, he also has said,though not in his Web 2.0 related interviews,...

If there's one reason we have done better than most of our
peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we
have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does
matter, I think, in any business.

Some Dominant Web 2.0 Themes

1. "Mash-Ups"- using others code (e.g. many are using Google Maps) and sharing your own code (e.g. Amazon is trying to provide code) to create a new application or web service such as: London Terrorist Attack map; eBay Motors & Google Maps; Zvents events site; Trulia real estate search;

2. "Tagging"- letting users create categorization on the fly with "tags". The goal is to help create more personalized, context rich search and categorization. Encouraging users to tag, like Amazon is doing currently, helps create better search. Some sites that tag or promote tagging: TagWorld; Tag Cloud; Technorati; 43 Things, (Yahoo!).

3. "User-Contributed Content"- letting users comment, rate, add content or media such as photos, videos etc. Becoming a standard in online newspapers and blogs. Some sites that promote user-contributed content: Judy's Book, Insider Pages; PriceGrabber; IRV2; BBC News, TripAdvisor.

Even conversations are occurring with regard to using the social web to make advertising more relevant.

How Users and User Experience Will Benefit from Web 2.0

1. More Competition Will Improve the Overall Web. Free services and an open source model that is going mainstream will mean more improvements aimed at remaining competitive. Google Maps and Google GMail (two "Web 2.0" applications) have pushed mapping and free email services into over-drive, not to mention desktop search.

2. Better Web User Interfaces Will Improve Subjective Satisfaction. Potentially being able to do more natural interaction (such as drag and drop or zoom) will give users a more intuitive way to interact with data. A focus on sharing will make the web seem more close to home or to a social circle (existing or created). Tagging will potentially create a user-centered "information architecture" that relies on context, semantics and personal labeling systems or so-called "folksonomies" rather than hierarchies or taxonomies.

3. More Trust and Credibility from Institutional Sources. Allowing self-publish or two-way publishing will give users more control, power and choice of data and opinions, views and decision-making resources. Blogs and ways to better integrate or share text, video and audio blogging will change what it means to be informed about a purchase decision or a visit to a destination.

Bottom Line: Web 2.0 seems to be reflecting the changes in the world and the way the current generation of web innovators interpret and re-purpose existing and newly used technologies. Web 2.0 or whatever you call it, is already here. For example Public Relations and Marketing savvy people use to monitor buzz; Technorati to track blog feeds and Epinions to monitor customer criticism, wants and needs. Pay attention to what is happening in Web 2.0, because it represents change at a micro and a macro level and whether you notice or not, change will affect your site whether you like it or not.

Best Wishes,
Frank Spillers

Good Follow Up Reads:

Web 2.0 and the Long Tail (Chris Anderson- Editor in Chief WIRED magazine)

Relax, Everything is Deeply Intertwingled (Adam Rifkin)

Are you ready for Web 2.0? (BayCHI panel -Audio program)