July 23, 2010

What is Web 2.0?

SYDNEY, NSW - JANUARY 23:  A Funnel Web spider...
"Web 2.0" refers to the second generation of web development and web design. It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and web applications. Examples include social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies.

The term is now closely associated with Tim O'Reilly because of the O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004. Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but rather to cumulative changes in the ways software developers and end-users utilize the Web. According to Tim O'Reilly:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform

However, whether it is qualitatively different from prior web technologies has been challenged. For example, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee called the term a "piece of jargon"

Web 2.0 websites allow users to do more than just retrieve information. They can build on the interactive facilities of "Web 1.0" to provide "Network as platform" computing, allowing users to run software-applications entirely through a browser. Users can own the data on a Web 2.0 site and exercise control over that data.  These sites may have an "Architecture of participation" that encourages users to add value to the application as they use it. This stands in contrast to traditional websites, the sort that limited visitors to viewing and whose content only the site's owner could modify. Web 2.0 sites often feature a rich, user-friendly interface based on Ajax and similar client-side interactivity frameworks, or full client-server application frameworks such as OpenLaszlo, Flex, and the ZK framework.

The concept of Web-as-participation-platform captures many of these characteristics. Bart Decrem, a founder and former CEO of Flock, calls Web 2.0 the "participatory Web" and regards the Web-as-information-source as Web 1.0.

The impossibility of excluding group-members who don’t contribute to the provision of goods from sharing profits gives rise to the possibility that rational members will prefer to withhold their contribution of effort and free-ride on the contribution of others. This requires what is sometimes called Radical Trust by the management of the website. According to Best, the characteristics of Web 2.0 are: rich user experience, user participation, dynamic content, metadata, web standards and scalability. Further characteristics, such as openness, freedom and collective intelligence by way of user participation, can also be viewed as essential attributes of Web 2.0

Technology overview
The sometimes complex and continually evolving technology infrastructure of Web 2.0 includes server-software, content-syndication, messaging-protocols, standards-oriented browsers with plugins and extensions, and various client-applications. The differing, yet complementary approaches of such elements provide Web 2.0 sites with information-storage, creation, and dissemination challenges and capabilities that go beyond what the public formerly expected in the environment of the so-called "Web 1.0".

Web 2.0 websites typically include some of the following features/techniques. Andrew McAfee used the acronym SLATES to refer to them:

Search - The ease of finding information through keyword search.
Links- Ad-hoc guides to other relevant information.
Authoring - The ability to create constantly updating content over a platform that is shifted from being the creation of a few to being constantly updated, interlinked work. In wikis, the content is iterative in the sense that users undo and redo each other's work. In blogs, content is cumulative in that posts and comments of individuals are accumulated over time.
Tags - Categorization of content by creating tags: simple, one-word user-determined descriptions to facilitate searching and avoid rigid, pre-made categories.
Extensions - Powerful algorithms that leverage the Web as an application platform as well as a document server.
Signals - The use of RSS technology to rapidly notify users of content changes.

The popularity of the term Web 2.0, along with the increasing use of blogs, wikis, and social networking technologies, has led many in academia and business to coin a flurry of 2.0s, including Library 2.0, Social Work 2.0,Enterprise 2.0, PR 2.0, Classroom 2.0, Publishing 2.0, Medicine 2.0, Travel 2.0 and Government 2.0. Many of these 2.0s refer to Web 2.0 technologies as the source of the new version in their respective disciplines and areas. For example, in the Talis white paper "Library 2.0: The Challenge of Disruptive Innovation," Paul Miller argues

Blogs, wikis and RSS are often held up as exemplary manifestations of Web 2.0. A reader of a blog or a wiki is provided with tools to add a comment or even, in the case of the wiki, to edit the content. This is what we call the Read/Write web.Talis believes that Library 2.0 means harnessing this type of participation so that libraries can benefit from increasingly rich collaborative cataloguing efforts, such as including contributions from partner libraries as well as adding rich enhancements, such as book jackets or movie files, to records from publishers and others.

Here, Miller links Web 2.0 technologies and the culture of participation that they engender to the field of library science, supporting his claim that there is now a "Library 2.0." Many of the other proponents of new 2.0s mentioned here use similar methods.

According to the Global Language Monitor, Web 2.0 is the one millionth word to enter the English language

Web APIs
Machine-based interaction, a common feature of Web 2.0 sites, uses two main approaches to Web APIs, which allow web-based access to data and functions: REST and SOAP.

1. REST (Representational State Transfer) Web APIs use HTTP alone to interact, with XML (eXtensible Markup Language) or JSON payloads;
2. SOAP involves POSTing more elaborate XML messages and requests to a server that may contain quite complex, but pre-defined, instructions for the server to follow.

Often servers use proprietary APIs, but standard APIs (for example, for posting to a blog or notifying a blog update) have also come into wide use. Most communications through APIs involve XML or JSON payloads.

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