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Web 2.0

‘Web 2.0’ encapsulates a rethinking and reinvention of how the web is used, and might be used—circa late-2004.

The phraseology is that of software engineering, where the release of a new version is denoted by appending a number to the software title.

Taken at face-value, the term has proven problematic. Key criticisms of the term are that the web is not a piece of software, and that many of the ideas collected under the Web 2.0 moniker are not ‘new’ in a either a programmatic or technological sense.

Beyond its initial use to describe an approach to software development, the term has also entered popular usage as a synonym for ‘new-ness’—leading to comparisons with pre dot-com bust buzzwords such as ‘killer app’, ‘bleeding/leading edge’, etc.

Historicising the web

…an attempt to historicise the web-that-was, in order to chart its possible future.

Defining ‘Web 2.0’-ness is often supported by contrasting example-pairs; how Web 2.0: technologies, companies, business models, websites, etc; differ to their 1.0 forebears. However the true value may lie not in the specific examples, but in the attempt to historicise the web-that-was (pre 2004), in order to chart its possible future.

This theme, of summarising the evolution of the web, is also prevalent in the web design community, with a number of keynote speeches at international conferences (2004-2006), exploring similar terrain [1].

Responses to the term range from (positive) almost evangelical fervor, through to skepticism: that the term only has value as a marketing exercise [2]. The later claim is often supported by noting that the term was first defined (at length) [3], and used as the moniker for a conference programme initiated by software book publisher Tim O’Reilly.

The lack consensus on the value of the term may even be (unintentionally) fitting, a reflection of the decentralised and discursive character of this ‘new’ web. For example, many references to ‘Web 2.0’ point either to the Wikipedia entry [4] or have been formulated in response to blog entries.

Rather than charting a possible future, Web 2.0 can be understood as a qualifier that has been assigned to the ‘best-of’ what-has-been. Few of the concepts cited as examples are entirely new, with many having been realised in various guises from the late 1990s.

Key Web 2.0 concepts

Collective intelligence
Using the interconnected-ness of the web to prioritise, aggregate or generate new content, for example Google’s page rank algorithm factors the number and quality of incoming links into ordering (ranking) search results. This concept is also described as ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’—a reference to the title and central premise of James Surowiecki’s book.
Social software
Software that enables participation, contribution and networking (inter-connecting); for example blogs.
Software that enables content or services to be combined by third-parties (this combination is often referred to as ‘remixing’ or a ‘mash-up’: a reference to DJ-culture where new compositions are created by sampling and combining existing sounds or recordings).
Web-based services and applications that do not rely desktop computer operating systems (such as Windows or Macintosh).
Developing application software/programs that run inside of a web browser.

…a mind map or a collective ‘to-do’ list

If initial uses of the web can be visualised as an electronic book: formal and author-controlled, then Web 2.0 is a mind map [5] or a collective ‘to-do’ list.

Web 2.0 design and content trends

Both as an attempt to address new interaction models and as response to the conventions that new publishing tools have employed, new navigation systems and aesthetics have emerged. These have also been influenced by the styling of the Windows XP and Macintosh OS X operating systems.




Related terms: blog, convergence, folksonomy, open source, RSS, trackback


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