Highlights of: What is Web 2.0

oreillynet.com:

The Web 2.0 lesson: leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

BitTorrent thus demonstrates a key Web 2.0 principle: the service automatically gets better the more people use it.

Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web. As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound in to the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users.

“folksonomy”: a style of collaborative categorization of sites using freely chosen keywords, often referred to as tags. Tagging allows for the kind of multiple, overlapping associations that the brain itself uses, rather than rigid categories. In the canonical example, a Flickr photo of a puppy might be tagged both “puppy” and “cute”–allowing for retrieval along natural axes generated user activity.

Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era.

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls “we, the media,” a world in which “the former audience”, not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.

Every significant internet application to date has been backed by a specialized database: Google’s web crawl, Yahoo!’s directory (and web crawl), Amazon’s database of products, eBay’s database of products and sellers, MapQuest’s map databases, Napster’s distributed song database. As Hal Varian remarked in a personal conversation last year, “SQL is the new HTML.” Database management is a core competency of Web 2.0 companies, so much so that we have sometimes referred to these applications as “infoware” rather than merely software.

The race is on to own certain classes of core data: location, identity, calendaring of public events, product identifiers and namespaces. In many cases, where there is significant cost to create the data, there may be an opportunity for an Intel Inside style play, with a single source for the data. In others, the winner will be the company that first reaches critical mass via user aggregation, and turns that aggregated data into a system service.

Cal Henderson, the lead developer of Flickr, recently revealed that they deploy new builds up to every half hour. This is clearly a radically different development model! While not all web applications are developed in as extreme a style as Flickr, almost all web applications have a development cycle that is radically unlike anything from the PC or client-server era. It is for this reason that a recent ZDnet editorial concluded that Microsoft won’t be able to beat Google: “Microsoft’s business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google’s depends on everyone exploring what’s new in their computing environment every day.”

Lightweight business models are a natural concomitant of lightweight programming and lightweight connections. The Web 2.0 mindset is good at re-use. A new service like housingmaps.com was built simply by snapping together two existing services. Housingmaps.com doesn’t have a business model (yet)–but for many small-scale services, Google AdSense (or perhaps Amazon associates fees, or both) provides the snap-in equivalent of a revenue model.

…we believe that Web 2.0 will provide opportunities for companies to beat the competition by getting better at harnessing and integrating services provided by others.

But as with many areas of Web 2.0, where the “2.0-ness” is not something new, but rather a fuller realization of the true potential of the web platform, this phrase gives us a key insight into how to design applications and services for the new platform.

“Ajax isn’t a technology. It’s really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:

* standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
* dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
* data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT;
* asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
* and JavaScript binding everything together.”

AJAX is also a key component of Web 2.0 applications such as Flickr, now part of Yahoo!, 37signals’ applications basecamp and backpack, as well as other Google applications such as Gmail and Orkut. We’re entering an unprecedented period of user interface innovation, as web developers are finally able to build web applications as rich as local PC-based applications.

The competitive opportunity for new entrants is to fully embrace the potential of Web 2.0. Companies that succeed will create applications that learn from their users, using an architecture of participation to build a commanding advantage not just in the software interface, but in the richness of the shared data.

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