Web 2.0 was a term coined about three years ago. The term was both ambiguous and timely ‘â€œ so much so, that it quickly took a life of its own among various demographics. Since 2004, no one has been able to agree upon a standard definition — but this is not surprising. ‘Web 2.0’ is really an encapsulation of the greater economy: major trends relating to the internet, human communication patterns and investment opportunities. As such, agreeing upon a definition would be impossible because the change means different things to different people.
For entrepreneurs, web 2.0 represents a new movement in the online space. Marc Andreessen characterizes this as a shift to ‘platforms‘ and for the most part, I agree. However, more than a technology shift I see web 2.0 as a catalyst to interaction between groups of people. Prior to the web as a platform, online interaction was really about conveying information, normally in the B2C model (businesses to customer): businesses had websites and websites had data and text. To a large extent, AOL shifted this B2C relationship by both providing access and by providing social relevancy families spanning multi-generations. Search engines also helped by allowing people to find targeted information, thereby personalizing the online experience and making it more relevant and useful.
For investors, web 2.0 is largely a justification for a new injection of investment money, formerly scarred-off during the last tech bust. Almost every new web 2.0 concept out there currently was at least ‘thought about’ (theoretically) during the last bubble. The difference was that for a number of reasons, the market was simply not ready for so much innovation at one time.
For the masses, web 2.0 is about a communications shift. As I stated, during the last tech boom, people simply weren’t ready to fully embrace all the capabilities that online technology offered. My personal feeling is that this hiccup was a result of communications patterns that had not yet adapted. Darwin applied to the web. While social networks, dating sites and online collaboration existed they were missing key ingredients. First, advances in social architecture and design have provided the sleek interfaces helping to make websites intuitive and engaging. Second, online has become ‘socially acceptable’ finding a date online or learning to program are more the norm than the exception. Still, not all is yet socially acceptable. I draw parallels to what I see currently with virtual communities. SecondLife isn’t yet acceptable on a mass scale and the technology is still primitive and largely un-engaging for anyone but the early adopters. However, 10 years from now I’m sure a follow-on to SecondLife will be the next big thing. Change takes time.
Web 2.0 itself has many characterizations, from the concept of socialization to sharing, to syndication. Still, I believe the biggest factor propelling the current wave of innovation is not the underlying technologies (RSS, tagging, platforms, etc) but rather the willingness of people to embrace and accept new ways of doing things. Younger generations now play online games (Webkinz), text message, and use social networks – but they would not do so without ‘some element’ of older generation buy-in. After all, I know very few 12 year olds who pay for their own high-speed connections, cell phones, or video games. Older generations have begun to see the value in all things online as they better recognize the lifestyle implications (flexibility from telecommuting, e-commerce, convenience of online banking, etc) and thus are more ready to try, accept and adapt to new communication patterns and startup concepts. This willingness to ‘try’ is, in my opinion, the heart of web 2.0. It is also why I believe that despite recent skepticism (and once some of the crap ideas are filtered out) the web 2.0 movement will continue to progress at a rapid pace.
I think web 2.0 is still a relevant term, but I think we need to accept it for what it is — more a movement than a specific type of architecture.
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