Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's the big deal about Web 2.0?

Let's take a look at what Web 2.0 is and what it is not. We'll start with the world's shortest history lesson.

Web 1.0

I wrote my first web page in 1996. When the WorldWide Web was implemented, the initial key features were these:

  1. Present content. Offer users information that they want at the click of a button.

  2. Relate content. Connect things. Link words to other related locations. Create relationships between documents and ideas.

    This is what the HT in HTML means. "Hypertext" is text that connects to other text, in this case through links.

  3. Right here, right now. Make information (including personal emails!) available at any computer you sit down at.

    Now your data is no longer tied to your home location. It's out there in "the cloud" and you can get at it any time you need it, no matter where you are.

    Hello, new security models and implications! Gotta remember those passwords now.

  4. Images (and media). Provide pictures, video, and sound. Compress to the smallest size possible or you'll lose your viewers to the annoyingly long transfer times. Adapt industries to new needs for storage space both centrally, and on the user's terminal.

  5. Develop new revenue models. Offering content online shifts the way people look for emerging facts. Newspapers are challenged to keep up with this trend and rapidly shift to web presentation. Advertising techniques adapt, especially with the creation of the now-ubiquitous "banner ad."

But all of this was still directed at how to present static content to an enduser, and direct an enduser to the content a provider wanted them to request.

Fast forward 13 years later and it's a revolutionary world all over again.

Web 2.0

The Web was first a repository for permanent content. It's now a place to interact. Today, everyone makes his or her own content. It's dynamic. It doesn't expect the user to come looking for content, but it adapts to the addition of new content by the user.

Keys to this new world are:

  1. Access. You get to manage who has access to your data.

  2. Individuality. The content you want is delivered to you in a way that suits you. RSS feeds, user preferences, and "skins" make your experience of reading someone else's content as unique as you are.

  3. Easy media. You get to create and share pictures, sounds, and movies.

    The Web initially allowed you to find someone else's movies. Now, anyone with a reasonably recent cell phone can be a movie producer, a songwriter/musician, or a photographer. There are all sorts of places and ways to store, access, share, and control your media files. Basic tools for creating and editing are generally free.

  4. Collaborative environments. Once upon a time, great columnists received fan mail (or hate mail), and occasionally responded. Now, all blog platforms incorporate tools for interacting with readers in nearly real-time.

    • Wikipedia was built by (mostly) altruists who started with zero content and the hopes that people would pour their knowledge into an open forum. (It worked.)

    • Social networking sites have become the dominant force on the Internet, making interaction king.

    • YouTube encourages video responses to postings, resulting in a sort of ongoing video conversation.

    • Google Docs and the new Google Wave extend this trend exponentially, allowing teams of users to interactively contribute to the development of a project.

  5. Ubiquitous metrics. It used to be that you had to have a marketing degree to know who visited your site and why. Now various applications open this to anyone and everyone. You can view your own site statistics in real time and then tailor your content as you see fit.

Working together

The Web may have initially brought the impersonalization of technology to the masses. But if so, the masses have adjusted the technology to inject personality back into it.

What's Web 2.0 about? It's about me and you working together.

So, what do you have to say about that?

Question: How have online tools changed how you interact with people you know?