Web 2.0: The Next Big Thing or the Evolution Technology?
Is it a movement? A revolution? Perhaps a new paradigm? Or, is it a bunch of hype designed to sell a bunch of new software? Just what is Web 2.0?
Well, the term has been around since 2003. It was coined by I-Net pioneer Dale Dougherty and introduced at a conference by Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, Inc., who has subsequently made attempts at defining just what Web 2.0 means. In his seminal document entitled What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, O'Reilly describes Web 2.0 as follows:
"Like many important concepts, Web 2.0 doesn't have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core. You can visualize Web 2.0 as a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from that core."
- Tim O'Reilly
Okay, that's a starting point of sorts - gravitational core, set of principles and practices, veritable solar system. The fact is, O'Reilly, the champion of Web 2.0, has written eloquently on the subject, but after reading his detailed explanation, you still walk away scratching your head. Additional research clearly demonstrates that there's a lack of consensus
Tim Bray, writing at http://radar.oreilly.com, strongly contests the use of the term Web 2.0, calling it nothing more than a meme. Okay, so what's a meme? Well, we have to go back to 1976 to find the origin of the term created by Richard Dawkins in his text, The Selfish Gene. In it, Dawkins describes memes broadly:
"Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."
Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Web 2.0 is a catch phrase and one that's getting a lot of attention within the e-commerce community. In fact, since making its way into the collective I-conscious, there have been more than 9 million Google searches for Web 2.0 information. Somebody's interested.
Yes, there's something there, and when you cut through the hype, delete the meme and study the underlying concepts, Web 2.0 does offer some thinking points for every site designer, host and owner. Let's look at some of the parameters of this new way of thinking about the www.
A great catch phrase in its own right. Extreme trust is a new vision for using the collective knowledge of Internet users, demonstrated by the ascendancy of Wikipedia. In the world of Web 1.0 (the model for the past decade), the Internet was a source of information. However, the information was static. You could access World Book or The Encyclopedia Britannica on-line, but all you could do is read it, print it out and use it for your child's homework.
Sites, such as Wikipedia and the Open Directory Project are changing this dynamic based on the concept of extreme trust.
Wikipedia is a growing collection of information (over 100,000 unique entries) submitted and edited by volunteers. It changes daily, hourly, providing the latest information from a variety of writers of varying degrees of expertise. Information can be edited by anyone who knows more about the topic than the original poster. In fact, if you access certain topics on Wikipedia, you'll see warnings that certain encyclopedia entries have not been reviewed, and therefore, the content can't be deemed as accurate - yet. However, as more experts, operating under the doctrine of extreme trust, review each Wikipedia entry, the reliability and veracity of the content increases.
Thus, in the Web 1.0 world, people could access information, but not participate in its evolution. In the new age of Web 2.0, the collective intelligence of the world community becomes accessible and utile.
Another, much-touted aspect of Web 2.0 is personal participation. Personal web sites have been around for years. You could post family pix and tell the world what you did over summer vacation. But, these personal web sites never really caught on because of the expense and time required to launch and maintain them.
Enter the web log, aka blog. These personal journals encourage greater, individual participation by enabling anyone with an opinion, idea or random thought to post these personal musings for all the world to see. Bloggers have changed the way information is disseminated. Many have garnered credibility as legitimate news sources. In fact, bloggers have received press credentials for newsworthy events. They're used by the mainstream media as reference and several of these bloggers have broken major news stories before their larger print and on-line competitors, e.g., Robert Novak's outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.
The concept of personal participation has also spilled over into the realm of e-commerce, with many on-line businesses offering a blog and/or forum where customers, clients and other interested parties can post their thoughts. Amazon.com is a leader in this area, encouraging its customers to submit reviews of purchased products. In fact, some Amazon reviewers have made names for themselves - and customers seek out their recommendations! As the old, anti-war chant once demanded, Power to the People has been finally realized.
In fact, if you tour the Amazon site, you'll discover opportunities for customer participation on virtually every page. Amazon's subsidiary, Booksurge.com has also simplified the entire publishing process. Authors no longer have to approach traditional publishers, hat in hand, begging to be published. Booksurge and Amazon have made it possible for anyone to write, publish and sell texts through Amazon, B&N, Borders and other on-line outlets. Yes, this is part of the Web 2.0 model.
Static versus Dynamic
Netscape was the browser of choice in the Web 1.0 era. It was published, then updated regularly in various versions identified as Netscape 1.0, 2.0, etc. This was a static business model in which users had to wait for improvements to be made, then download the updates.
Fast forward to the dynamic age of Web 2.0 where Google reigns supreme. Google is a true child of the Internet. It was made to fit with I-net dynamics. Improvements are made and implemented daily - seamlessly. No downloads, no patches required. The result? Google has enabled all of us to access the most obscure factoid in a nanosecond. Its index contains well over 1 billion pages of spidered text and that figure is growing at a phenomenal rate.
Google has demonstrated how to do it right. It's highly interactive, it's never static and it has created many new avenues for the e-commerce community and for users in search of the name of the pharaoh who was in power when the rotary mill was introduced in Egypt. This has increased productivity exponentially.
The Evolution of Technology
Technology evolves. It builds on what came before. It learns from past mistakes and takes advantage of unrealized opportunities. This is as true of America's Industrial Revolution as it is for the Internet. There were lots of false starts, missteps and abject failures during the rise of technology in the early and mid-1800s. The same is true of the current technological revolution underway on your computer screen daily.
Remember the original Priceline model? You could spend two hours saving 9¢ on a can of peas. Nice try, but no cigar, despite William Shatner's campy commercials. Or, how about buying pet foods on-line? That went down in flames, too. In fact, all you have to do is look at the I-net bubble that burst in 2000 to see the shake-out of what was working and what wasn't. A lot of investors lost a ton of cash, but the Net didn't shrivel up and die. In fact, it's more powerful than ever.
Technology doesn't move forward in straight line. It never has. There are offshoots, improvements and lots of really, really bad ideas along the way. (Anybody remember the Ford Edsel?) Internet technology is no different, except that the shakeouts occur much faster, the improvements take off much quicker and the really, really bad ideas are really, really expensive. Just ask Shatner. Such is the nature of technological evolution.
So, Is Web 2.0 A Revolution?
Tim O'Reilly and the other promoters of Web 2.0 have done us a service by focusing attention on new uses for the Net. RSS is a radical step forward. Podcasting, though in its infancy, is coming on strong having caught the attention of advertisers as a new means to reach the cutting edge public. In fact, just as anyone can set up and maintain a blog, today the technology exists to set up your own broadcast network complete with specialized shows for niche markets like pregnant parents or home schoolers.
However, Web 2.0 also has aspects of a meme. Many on-line businesses have picked up the term and now proudly display a Web 2.0 logo on their home pages, though the site has virtually no new features.
No, Web 2.0 isn't a new paradigm or a revolution. It's the natural evolution of a technology that's growing at truly heart-stopping speed. What was yesterday won't be tomorrow.
In the weeks and months ahead, we'll take a much closer look at this evolutionary track to sort hype from help, and to assist you in finding new, better ways to increase site traffic, improve your conversion rate and expand your repeat-customer base.
For now, Google Web 2.0 and start doing your homework. Changes are coming. Will you be ready? If not, you won't be here tomorrow.