Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Web 2.0

Every client wants to enable Web 2.0 for their applications, and like Paul Graham, I initially disliked the term so much that upon its mention I used to immediately launch into a lengthy marketing talk about user experience, AJAX, collaboration and the semantic web. No wonder the term has been called marketing slogan and even amoral. Looks like there are still some folks out there in software who believe in honesty ! :)

Finally I decided that enough was enough and at least I need to try to appreciate it from a business perspective if not technical.

The term was popularized by O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International for a conference they hosted, the first Web 2.0 Conference in October 2004. Later on, an article on oreilly.net clarified the meaning in detail. This article tries to differentiate between Web 2.0 applications like Wikipedia, Blogs, Google Adsense, Flickr and their Web 1.0 counterparts like Britannica Online, Websites, DoubleClick and Ofoto, and uses the differences to come up with Web 2.0 principles -
  1. Web as a platform - Software is provided as a scalable service. Examples are Google Search, Adsense, BitTorrent
  2. Harnessing collective intelligence - Users are trusted to contribute to the collective material. Examples are Wikipedia, Amazon reviews, Flickr tagging, Blogs
  3. Data as central - Application relies on a unique, hard to recreate repository of information that becomes more valuable as more users use it. Examples are Amazon, Imdb
  4. Lightweight programming models - Programming models allow use of various platforms and integrate easily to form innovative applications. AJAX, REST web services, RSS are key components in this. Mashup is a good example of these put to work.
  5. Software above the level of a single device - Devices can utilize the web to perform useful services. iTunes and TiVo are good examples.
  6. Rich user experience - Gmail, Flickr
Dion Hinchcliffe examines the current state of Web 2.0 with a brave attempt at architecture of the web using people, machines and technologies. In a seperate article, he also lists the applications best qualified to be called Web 2.0.

After all that reading, I think I have at least a handle on the new web. I can't get rid of the feeling that technically, nothing has changed. AJAX means that now we can use Javascript safely and can get away with supporting a few browsers :) RSS has also been around for long. Web services have been there for a long time as well as as P2P. One thing that has really changed is the convergence of devices.

However, it is definitely true that these technologies are being combined in ingenious ways to create new applications that allow users to access relevant information and collaborate more effectively. And if you would like to call it the emergence of Web 2.0 and it makes business sense, I am fine with that !


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