â€˜The network is the computerâ€™ is an old saying from the hardware company Sun. What used to be a prediction is now becoming a fact. Internet services are slowly replacing software. People organize and share their lives on new innovating and interactive websites. Soon you will no longer need specific computer programmes to do so. Just having a web browser will be enough.
To prevent confusion I should first give you a definition of what Web 2.0 is. Web 2.0 generally refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that let people collaborate, and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages. Web 2.0 is therefore a generic term for innovative websites, where everything is aimed at sharing, sharing links, pictures, contacts, lists, interests, personal data, etc.. In short: sharing your whole life. It has become a sort of social interacting that is unlocked and stimulated though the internet in a smart and interactive way.
This is not new you might say, internet has indeed been a big social place for many years. Much communication nowadays takes place online (e.g. email, MSN, weblogs) and sharing stuff you like through peer to peer networks or a having wish list at Amazon or Bol.com is very popular. The new thing about Web 2.0 is that sharing all these bits of personal information is now getting easier and more attractive. Information coming from different websites is getting easier to join and easier to find. New information based upon you personal preferences is even coming directly towards you.
How this works can be seen by examples of the new, Web 2.0, websites that have conquered the hearts of internet users:
Flickr.com, Del.icio.us, Technorati, Furl, Wikipedia, Myspace, Plazes and Last.fm are among many of them. Some of them are already well known and have already a huge base of users while others have just come into existence. They have one thing in common: the users create order in the content that they add, by â€˜taggingâ€™ the content, such as pictures, music and web pages.
For example, a big hit at this moment is Google Maps. Users can add geographical information to their own material. There are even Google Maps with judgments of public bathrooms and another good example was the map where Xbox 360 fans could see which shops had the largest supply of new Xbox 360â€™s during the introduction of the Xbox 360. Here we have come to another feature of Web 2.0: information based upon your geographical location. Plazes is another good example of combining different mentioned possibilities. Plazes is about location conscious interaction, letâ€™s called it a navigational system of your social life and is experimenting with Google Map, Google earth and Flickr. This way your pictures at Flickr get a place on the world map and suddenly you can see other pictures taken from the place where you live. With all these possibilities software suddenly becomes social. You will be able to inform contacts automatically. Popular internet services exchange each others material and attach their own data to it. As a consequence everything gets closely connected.
These new co operations came from the success of open standards for sharing en further spreading of internet content. In combination with content tagging surprisingly possibilities arise. You can find out who is tagging the same content as you are. You can see what others have tagged on the same subject and therefore suddenly find more content on the subject the you are interested in.
Many of these Web 2.0 applications came into existence by combining all kinds of programming techniques such as AJAX and Ruby On Rails. The consequence of the programming tricks that combined are called AJAX, of which Ruby on Rails is also making use of, is that the gap between web pages and software on your desktop is getting smaller and smaller. Web pages do not have to be refreshed all the time to show new content. It also makes filling in search terms and forms on web pages a whole lot easier and user friendlier. Google Suggest for example shows the possible search terms while you are typing. Thanks to techniques such as AJAX users are able to fill in forms quicker and get find the wanted information much quicker.
Web 2.0 may also have a shadow side. There is a lot of private information online. Google already knows about your interests, Yahoo has your pictures through Flickr, Microsoft knows who you are chatting with and Apple knows your musical and filmic preferences. This will only get worse. Especially Google depends on advertising that will pop up next to your personal information. It will be a matter of time before your information will be used. It will be a matter of time before marketing companies will be aware of this kind of interesting data and will be willing to pay good money for such data.
So how can all these Web 2.0 developments be of interest to us and our customers? Well first of all there is an interesting Web 2.0 application for AMIS called Basecamp, an application that allows you to cooperate online in a project. Since it is a web based project management tool everybody can get access to it. You only need a browser, wherever you are, whether you are working abroad or from the office of a customer. There is no problem with firewalls or secured networks. Second of all, we should be aware of the functional possibilities that the developments of Web 2.0. has brought to them. Consumers are more and more getting in control at the internet. They have â€˜tastedâ€™ how easily working with Web 2.0 applications can be. They will expect these usability improvements from companies as well.
There is no final and definitive list of all web 2.0 applications. Every day new ideaâ€™s and new applications come into existence. I have found a nice article (Dutch) at Frankwatching called â€˜Web 2.0 in kaart gebrachtâ€™ and a nice long list at Virtual Karma called â€˜Complete List of Web 2.0 Applicationsâ€™. Update (11-04-2006): I was pointed out a very nice website with a huge list of Web 2.0 apps called Buzzshout.
In order to write this piece of information I have used two typical Web 2.0 applications which are simply aimed at saving interesting internet pages: Furl and Del.icio.us. With both applications you are able to store web pages that you find interesting. They both have a bit of a different way of approach. With Furl you can categorize the web pages and with Del.icio.us you can tag the web pages. Both make clever use of the browser functionalities to get the pages stored. Furl uses itâ€™s own toolbar that you have to install. Del.icio.us uses the possibility of a favourite link in the links section to store web pages. Since tagging is in my point of view a better way of finding back stored web pages and also enables a better possible and interesting cooperation with other Web 2.0 applications in the future I think that Del.icio.us will eventually win the overhand. On the other hand, the user interface of Furl is at this moment a better one.