What does “Web 2.0” mean to you?

I had a discussion recently with someone that claimed to be a “Web 2.0 expert”. First of all, I am always skeptical of anyone that declares themselves to be an expert, or a “guru”, I think it’s my job to decide if it’s warranted. Secondly, he steadfastly believes that Web 2.0 is really just a collection of technologies and software (e.g. Twitter, Flickr, Facebook etc.), displaying a decidedly social media bias.

This inspired me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what exactly I thought Web 2.0 was. It’s almost a throw-away term now, often bandied about by marketers, but is there a single answer to “What is Web 2.0?” I don’t think so. In coming up with some notes on the subject, I couldn’t narrow it down, so decided to do a series of three blogs, each addressing one aspect of what Web 2.0 means to me. This is the first in that series.

My feeling has always been that the term Web 2.0, which has really only been around about 5 years anyway, reflects a paradigm shift in the way The Internet was perceived and is now being used. Back in the days of Web 1.0, for the sake of a better term, users accessed the internet in much the same way they read a magazine. It was a very passive pursuit, and pretty much a one-way conduit. Yes, we entered information, but usually only for the benefit of the site owner, not for our benefit.

With Web 2.0, the philosophy changed. No longer were we passive observers, we were actively contributing. Our visits and habits drove search engine rankings; our videos and blogs meant that we were also providing content; our need to be engaged led to more interactive content, tailored to our needs and wants; and Social media meant that we were using the internet for our own purposes, not just as a means of driving business to online retailers. Businesses are of course harnessing social media, and people are still monetizing blogs, but at the core, they are still our tools, and represent our collective consciousness. Webmasters use web analytics to determine our every move, how we interact with their sites and services, and whether they meet our needs – but the fundamental shift is how quickly that data now leads to change. In many cases, interactive sites change content on-the-fly based on how we use the site. Perhaps more than anything else, the Web 2.0 shift means that the tail is now wagging the dog.

In response to this Web 2.0 shift, web site designers and developers have gone back to grass roots, with principles and practices that reflect a more simplistic approach (I’ll address this in more detail in the next blog in this series). No longer is design meant to show off the capabilities of the designer, or the sophistication of the platform, but it is meant to make our life easier, by allowing us to navigate, learn, and act more quickly. Granted, many of the technologies required to make our lives easier require great underlying sophistication – but that’s their problem! Internet marketers have also been forced to re-evaluate how they reach their audience. You can’t simply rely on a single medium to tell your story, or to reach your audience. Strategic plans are now required that integrate many styles and communication channels, and if you don’t unify your message across those channels, it simply won’t reach your audience – it won’t rank highly enough, and it will just be more noise.

Marketers and internet users are no longer adversaries, they are partners in the new Web 2.0 revolution, each driving the other. The last five years have been an exciting time for those of us who work in the internet industry, but much more than that, it has been a Golden Age for the user. Now, Web 3.0 ?

go directly to the next Web 2.0 blog …

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