Web 2.0 – A non technical view

A lot of different people have varied views on ‘Web 2.0’, especially the developers. In fact, many of them don’t believe that the concept exists, and that it’s just a victim of hype. I hope you guys think otherwise (else I have a tough set of readers out there). According to me, Web 2.0 exists, but it’s not a well defined technology. It’s not a concept which can be put in a box and said ‘things within the box are Web 2.0, and the ones that fall outside are not’. Web 2.0, in simple terms means creating websites and applications with an understanding of the capabilities of the medium. When any new medium is introduced, we have a number of people jumping onto it to create content. Be it radio, television or more recently, the Web.

When the .COM bubble burst, a huge number of companies went bust, and out came the survivors. These were the guys who truly understood the capabilities of the medium – or were Web 2.0ish. So Web 2.0 can be looked as a lesson learnt from the 2001 .COM bust.

A popular example of Web 2.0 could be Google Maps – not exactly Web 2.0, but an extremely visible part. I am sure all of you would have used Google Maps some time, where in users can put in an address and find places online, anywhere on the globe! When the term Web 2.0 was coined, and people used Google Maps, they thought ‘This is Web 2.0!” However, it’s a lot more than that. A bigger part of Web 2.0, in my opinion, is the concept of participation and the value users bring in.

Sites that have the Long Tail approach are also very Web 2.0. We really cannot discuss Web 2.0 and the Long Tail approach without a mention of Wikipedia. This online encyclopedia works on a very simple concept – with a huge number of people reading large number of articles with the power to edit them, the information is seldom going to be inaccurate. Also, instead of having the most popular topics, Wikipedia had room for unlimited articles that may or may not be popular, which is exactly what the Long Tail approach is. As a result, the breadth of knowledge that you can find on Wikipedia is unstoppable.

A barrier though for Web 2.0 sites is breaking the 1% rule. I can’t quite remember who coined the term, but what it simply means is that if users are allowed to contribute to the content on a site, only about 1% are going to actually do it. So at Wikipedia, if there are millions of people benefiting from the content, only about a few thousands are actually contributing to it. Web 2.0, however, is doing quite well to break the 1% rule. Digg works on a simple idea – users put up stories there, and as and when people click on it, or ‘digg’ it, it gains popularity. And the story with most ‘diggs’ comes onto the first page. This has actually broken the 1% rule, with almost 10% people digging content. The Holy Grail, however is those 90% visitors. And a site which (to some extent) is managing to harness that 90% too is del.icio.us, the social book-marking site.

In general, Web 2.0 are applications that get better when more people use them. And it’s also bringing back the concept that one person can build a website that makes a difference. To build Wikipedia, you don’t need to have the world’s knowledge. What you need instead is to provide the world with a platform to dish out the knowledge they have, and in turn build a consortium of ever-growing ‘user generated’ content. Still, there are some who would believe that Web 2.0 as a concept doesn’t exist. What people can’t deny is the fact that the way web applications are built is changing. The focus is shifting from sites being ‘magazine’ like to being more interactive. And if we had to term this revolution, I’d call it Web 2.0.