What is web 2.0?

The term ‘Web 2.0’ refers to a perceived ‘new generation’ of websites and web-based services which go beyond the static incarnation of websites.  Web 2.0 services encourage user-interaction, crowdsourced content and participation.   Web 2.0 does not refer to a new set of technologies, but rather a change in the way in which web-based technologies are being utilised.

Web 2.0 services are characterised by the following features

  1. ‘Folksonomy’ – the free classification of features – usually though a data tagging service, such as that employed by Flickr.  Folksonomy allows the user to categorise and access data in ways which make sense to them. So, for example, an image of a flower could be tagged with the words ‘flower’, ‘nature’, and ‘beauty’. It could also be further classified depending on the colour of the flower, etc.  This would mean that users searching for flowers would have access to the image, but also those searching for images of nature, or beautiful images.
  1. Rich User Experience – use of AJAX (Autochronous Javascript and XML) in Web 2.0 services allows synchronous searching and uploading of data from the client (user) end, creating a rich and interactive experience. Examples of this type of service include Google Maps where users can search maps, add their own data, mark sections and even create their own custom mapping or Google Suggest, an autocomplete service which suggests the phrase or spelling which a user is typing before the word is completed.
  1. The User as Contributor – one of the most engaging features of Web 2.0 services is the inclusion of the user in the development and continuation of the service. This can be through feedback, tagging, evaluation or commenting.  A good example of this is Amazon.com’s user of customer reviews.  These reviews, generated by customers have become a key part of how users determine which products are worth buying. On the back of this Amazon have also developed Amazon Vine – a service whereby users can obtain free products in return for reviewing them on the site.  These user reviews then generate further interest in the product, which can contribute to sales numbers.
  1. ‘The Long Tail’ – While the web can function as a retail environment, where products may be sold in return for a one-off fee, Web 2.0 services often involve a ‘pay per use’ approach, whereby products are supplied on demand and are paid for either on use or by a monthly fee basis.  Examples of this type of service include Google Apps.
  1. User Participation – traditional websites were based on the supply of content by the site owner/company.  Web 2.0 services often rely on crowdsourcing of data, such as in services like YouTube, or Wikipedia.
  1. Basic Trust – while traditional websites are copyrighted to the content owner, Web 2.0 services operate on a policy of sharing and dispersal. Content is made available to share, reuse, redistribute and edit.
  1. Dispersion – While traditional websites supplied content direct to a home page, Web 2.0 services deliver content in multiple channels, including file sharing, and permalinks (used in blogging sites to link to content which is no longer hosted on the front page of the site, but has been archived, preventing ‘link rot’, where the link no longer leads to the content required due to page updates).

All of these features lead to a web experience which is richer, interactive, and scalable, and utilises a collective intelligence.

There are a number of ways in which Web 2.0 services are utilised today, including blogging, podcasting, tagging, RSS curating, social bookmarking (eg pinterest), social networking and web content voting.  Web 2.0 can be used for a number of purposes; it can stimulate networking and the sharing of knowledge, help spread awareness of material and promote a product or service.  Social networking can be an extremely useful tool to promote and advertise material at little cost to the developer.

However, it should not be concluded that Web 2.0 services are an easy or quick fix.  While they can have a high reach and wide impact, they are labour intensive. They require constant updating and monitoring to maintain the message amongst a stream of other available content. They are also open to persistent spamming or trolling and require constant, vigilant moderation.