Web 2.0 – What Exactly Does It Mean?

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WEB 2.0?Unless you live in Siberia without an Internet connection you have probably heard, or will soon hear the term “Web 2.0” used in reference to exciting new web sites and applications like Google’s Gmail, Google Maps, Wikipedia, the Flickr image sharing site, 37signals’ Basecamp online project management site, and more. But what exactly does the term Web 2.0 actually mean? Thankfully, Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media and guru of all things technical is here to tell us in his aptly titled September 30, 2005 article, “What Is Web 2.0”. It is a long read which may prove too technical for some audiences and not specific enough for others. Here are three take-away concepts for small-to-medium size businesses and people who design web sites for a living.

Open Source. According to Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 sites are not built on proprietary systems, software, and development methods. Rather, they employ nimble, open source technologies that leverage timely community contributions (verses yearly or longer, innovation cycles from large software vendors) and by design facilitate frequent software changes. Tim states, “It’s also no accident that scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP, and now Ruby, play such a large role at web 2.0 companies. Perl was famously described by Hassan Schroeder, Sun’s first webmaster, as “the duct tape of the internet.” Dynamic languages (often called scripting languages and looked down on by the software engineers of the era of software artifacts) are the tool of choice for system and network administrators, as well as application developers building dynamic systems that require constant change.”

Innovation in Assembly. Tim states, “The Web 2.0 mindset is good at re-use.” This means leveraging existing open source applications and API’s and “snapping them together” to create new software, websites and services. Tim gives the example of Housingmaps.com which was built by combining Google Maps with Craigslist’s rental apartment listings. Tim goes on the say that by additionally adding Google AdSense to the mix, Housingmaps.com could build a web business with a proven revenue model entirely out of free software, components and services. Of course, existing businesses do not have to go as far as Housingmaps.com to enjoy the benefits of innovation through assembly. Adding a new blogging feature to an existing corporate website using open source software such as WordPress is just one idea.

Trust and treat your users as co-developers
. This is true for both software and content. There is a limit to what you can build and innovate in-house with even the largest programming and marketing teams. A software development example: after years of multi-million dollar proprietary software, ERP software vendor SAP just invested in SocialText to introduce open source Wiki software technology to the enterprise. Regarding content, the Web 1.0 paradigm says “only allow your marketing department to publish web content”. Web 2.0 says “let your users write content and help each other”. Don’t play sole authority on a subject; rather make your company host and facilitator of the conversation.

In conclusion, Tim lists the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies as:

  • 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
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models