By Ben Butler, Web Editor, Internet Advertising Bureau
What exactly is Web 2.0 and what happened to Web 1.0?
On the face of it Web 2.0 appears a very considered marketing term that has sparked the industry’s imagination, but when the components that make up the moniker are analysed it becomes clear that there is far more to it.
At the heart of Web 2.0 are drivers that can’t be fooled, who hold terrific power - you, me and the global internet audience.
"The Web is changing. Mighty forces are at work and a new Internet is slouching towards a monstrous liquidity event. This reborn Web is vast, huge and unimaginably significant and intense. In fact, it's a new Web -- it's called Web 2.0" - Michael Parsons, CNET UK
It can be exhausting keeping up to date with all the latest internet terminology. Watchwords are banded around liberally in the hope that they will stick and enter into the common vernacular like blogs and podcasts have. Web 2.0 is one such term.
But it’s a phrase that is simultaneously being applied to the highest profile survivors of the dot com crash; a number of recent start-up websites and the next stage of the internet’s absorption into every aspect of modern living.
What is web 2.0?
The term Web 2.0 with its knowing nod to upgraded computer applications, garnered its current meaning following a 2004 conference hosted by O’ Reilly Media and MediaLive International on the future impact of the internet. Since then its actual definition has been debated and applied (often wrongly) to a number of internet concerns.
TechCrunch’s description of Web 2.0, however, that narrows it down to the "inevitable evolution of the web from a read-mostly medium to a read-write, or two-way medium," appears to be the one closest to Tim O’ Reilly’s original vision that puts the consumer at the forefront of the next generation of the internet.
Tim O’Reilly in conversation with the BBC’s regular technology blogger, Bill Thompson, believes that in its original incarnation, the internet was a publishing channel for pushing information to the consumer.
But those companies that survived and really succeeded post dotcom crash, were those that harnessed the participatory nature of online. It was these businesses, like Google, Amazon and eBay that created the foundations of Web 2.0.
O’ Reilly uses the internet’s biggest brand, Google, as an example of how the online audience’s collective intelligence and desire to get involved with the internet has contributed to the evolution of the medium. Google distinguished itself from a number of other search engines through the use of Page Rank.
By looking beyond what was contained within the search results to how relevant they are for the user, Page Rank helped swell Google to the behemoth we know, love and rely upon today.
Amazon, eBay, MySpace and Flickr are revolutionising the world wide web for the same reason, because as O’Reilly states, they "harness user input to add value."
"One of the most significant differences between Web 2.0 and the traditional World Wide Web (retroactively referred to as Web 1.0) is greater collaboration among Internet users and other users, content providers, and enterprises." – Whatis.com
New technologies and services such as RSS, podcasts, blogs and AJAX are driving this next generation internet. Their common feature is the use of a much richer user interface to make the internet resemble a desktop application that is adaptable and that you can interact with in real-time.
A central Web 2.0 concept is the opportunity for the internet user to create ‘mash-ups’ of sites and applications to make something innovative, personalised and new. O’Reilly identifies a site called Housingmaps.com which takes the maps from Google and combines it with Craigslist online classifieds, so you can look for a house and see its location on a map.
Kill the hype?
The democratic nature of the internet means, in some quarters, Web 2.0 is already being criticised and dismissed. Online the debate is raging as to whether Web 2.0 really is online’s next step and indeed whether the term is really a valid one.
A CNET article questions the long-term viability of those companies starting up under the banner of Web 2.0 and warns of a "dot-com-like bubble" forming - and we all know what happens to those!
Ross Mayfield, of social software company Socialtext in an interview with CNET fears that too many new companies, instead of looking to get established, are merely building themselves up to get acquired or "flipped" by a larger media owner. A concern shared by Peter Rip of Leapfrog Ventures, also quoted in the same CNET article: "I see some real problems in turning mashups from an interesting parlour trick into a real business."
But Tim O’Reilly does not fear a possible second internet crash. Instead, and with a survival of the fittest mentality, O’Reilly believes such a collapse could be the making of Web 2.0.
He states that historically every big industry has had to endure one to create a solid foundation on which to build: "Virtually every real breakthrough in technology had a bubble which burst, left a lot of people broke who'd invested in it but also left the infrastructure for this next golden age."
Many of the online discussions surrounding the cooperative nature of a Web 2.0 internet revolve around the concern that with the internet open to anyone to upload content, the quality of information may be diluted.
But fears over the legality and credibility of online content have existed since the inception of the medium and as whatis.com points out, "widespread censorship based on ill-defined elitism" would irreparably damage the internet.
The back-lash that Google recently experienced over the government sanctioned censorship of some online material in China - that went against the search engine’s corporate ethics - is one such example of how the free nature of the medium needs to remain.
To ensure quality, accurate and inoffensive material continues to represent the mainstay of online material, it is imperative that, wherever possible, the shared intelligence identifies and tackles those problematic pages and services. As with Wikipedia, for example, if information is deemed inaccurate, it can be changed.
Another argument against Web 2.0 is that it isn’t the future at all, but merely a transitional phase that will take us through to the main event, Web 3.0. But an argument like this is problematic as the internet is in a permanent state of transition.
It’s not like the internet is set to reach a plateau that represents the promised land of Web 2.0. In a continual state of flux, the beauty of the internet is that old and new pages sit alongside each other, utilising the earliest and latest technologies all at once. If Web 2.0 is transitional, than so is Web 3.0, Web 4.0, Web 5.0…
The fact that Web 2.0, on the face of it, appears to be just another parlance for those tech-savvy PR folk searching for the ‘next big thing’ is causing concern for many bloggers online. Preston Gralla, talking on Networking Pipeline fears the term Web 2.0 has already been hijacked and is being used for every new internet start-up to give them inbuilt credibility.
His suggestion is; "to kill Web 2.0, even before it's really begun. The ideas will still thrive, but if we can kill the term itself, maybe we'll be able to separate the truth from the hype."
So what is the future?
Web 2.0 may well have become a hijacked term. We work in an industry where the pace and excitement is such that a new phrase, term or technology is heralded as ‘revolutionary’ on a daily basis.
Despite the fact that the lines between Web 1.0 and 2.0 are blurred to say the least, the term Web 2.0 is as good a heading as any to describe the definite online shift that we have been experiencing over the last two years. A shift that has witnessed an explosion in consumer empowerment, creativity and visibility.
It would appear that the internet has come full circle. Another of the internet’s ultimate co-operative sites, Wikepedia, points out that Web 2.0 is closer to Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the internet as democratic communication medium.
A point that Berners-Lee made himself during a recent interview with the BBC: "The idea was that anybody who used the web would have a space where they could write and so the first browser was an editor, it was a writer as well as a reader. Every person who used the web had the ability to write something."
Whether the distinction between Web 1.0 and 2.0 will eventually become more apparent so we can truly recognise Web 2.0 as the next generation of the internet is unclear at this stage.
But with the rapid proliferation of broadband continuing and as we teeter on the edge of the advent of wi-fi, we are inching closer to a society that is intrinsically always online, which would truly enable the Web 2.0 concept, for the want of a better word, to bloom.
Check out 12ahead, our brand new platform
covering the latest in cutting-edge digital marketing and creative technology from around the globe.
12ahead identifies emerging trends and helps
you to understand how they can apply to modern-day companies.
We believe 12ahead can put you and your
business 12 months ahead of the competition. Sign up for a free trial today.