March 2009
Vol. 25, No. 1

A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists

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What is Web 2.0?
by Steve Giesel

According to Wikipedia;

"The term "Web 2.0" describes the changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and functionality of the web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-culture communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies. … Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but rather to changes in the ways software developers and end-users utilize the Web."

This may look like a relatively simple explanation—and it is—but the paradigm shift underlying the concept is significant.

O'Reilly Media points to the conceptual underpinnings of Web 1.0 as; software-as-commodity—represented by boxed products you can purchase, like MS Office, or any other bundle of code you can purchase or download for a charge or free to run on a particular computer platform and accomplish a specific set of tasks.  The original Netscape browser serves as an appropriate avatar for Web 1.0.  It was a piece of software running on your computer allowing you to go all over the place and look at stuff—and then maybe engage in a business transaction through traditional means such as mail-order or telephone.

Google by contrast was a software that never "saw the light of day" as a purchasable commodity.  It still runs on a computer, but one designed to manage the millions of electronic 'exchanges' that occur each moment—a server.  It runs as a service in between the millions of Web users who, in this case, are looking for specific Web resources.  It's computer programming that looks like it's running on the Web itself, what we refer to as an "Internet application" and like its sisters eBay, Amazon and others, has database management as a core competency filling in the spaces between browser and content server.  It acts to empower the interaction between the user and the online experience, creating Web 2.0 in the process.

A Web 2.0 "application" then is like a rhizome—an organic mass growing in a seemingly erratic manner—but with a purpose and robustness derived from an open architecture of participation.  The service gets better as more and more people use it.  In applications such as Wikipedia control is less centralized, it tends to harness the collective intelligence (or ignorance depending on your view) of users.  It has a "viral" growth pattern that depends not on advertising, but on the Web equivalent of word-of-mouth—hyper linking.  A Web 2.0 application is accessible from more than just one device, it's easy to use, it's managers adapt it over time in what amounts to a continuous "beta release" of software with no set update period or built-in retirement date.  It gives its best value by attracting visitors back each day for a new experience.

The next time you go out on the Web, take a look at the places you visit.  Is it a place where you can just look at stuff?  Or is it an invitation to interact in some meaningful way?  For a more in-depth discussion about Web 2.0, see this article from Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media;


Last Revised: 03/03/09



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