Update June 2010 :
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
In this post, we take a brief look at the inception of Web 2.0 as a general idea.
The term Web 2.0 was first coined at a conference in 2004 between O’Reilly and MediaLive when it was agreed that in the post dot-com boom era, those companies that had survived the 2001 ‘crash’ seemed to have something in common and that the web was becoming more important than ever. It was felt that the second generation of the web had arrived and thus the first of the annual Web 2.0 Summits took place that year.
The name caught on fairly quickly, although at the time there was some criticism to the effect that ‘Web 2.0’ was merely the latest buzzword with no meaning or substance behind it.
Indeed, one blogger wrote in 2005:
“I just wanted to say how much I’ve come to dislike this “Web 2.0” faux-meme. It’s not only vacuous marketing hype, it can’t possibly be right. In terms of qualitative changes of everyone’s experience of the Web, the first happened when Google hit its stride and suddenly search was useful for, and used by, everyone every day. The second—syndication and blogging turning the Web from a library into an event stream—is in the middle of happening. So a lot of us are already on 3.0. Anyhow, I think Usenet might have been the real 1.0. But most times, the whole thing still feels like a shaky early beta to me”
This was refuted with the argument that all new concepts tend to have a ‘meme’ or buzzword associated with them, as the idea takes hold and captures part of the prevailing ‘zeitgeist’ It didn’t necessarily make ‘Web 2.0’ any less relevant or tangible for being popular. It was pointed out that the reason ‘Web 2.0’ had gained ground so much was the general sense that there was something qualitatively different about the latest web applications and content.
To put it in the simplest of terms; Web 2.0 facilitates user generated content in ways that Web 1.0 providers never dreamed of. People have begun to realise that it is not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web.
Although Google began life during Web 1.0, it was a web ‘application’ not a piece of software from the start, offering services from within the browser that were not sold as commodities, but were paid for either directly or indirectly by the user, generally through the use of advertising.
One area in which Google has achieved notable success is through its AdSense program.
The core competency of Google’s operation is data management – relying on the ‘long tail’ – in web terms this refers to the collective power of the millions of small websites that populate the web as a whole.
This has been described as one of the lessons of Web 2.0 for business:
”….to leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management, to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the centre, to the long tail and not just the head”. O’Reilly, (2005)
User Generated Content:
One may envisage Web 1.0 as being primarily autocratic in nature, consisting as it did of a plethora of websites imparting information to be passively absorbed or displaying an array of products and services that the user was invited and exhorted to purchase – with the only real interaction being of the ‘Add to Basket’ variety. While this particular type of interactivity can be hugely satisfying for both producer and consumer, there comes a point for the user (and his/her bank balance) when merely surfing the web with intent to purchase is not enough to retain the user’s attention. Continuing the retail thread for just a little while longer, one can observe that this fact has also dawned on some of the larger online retailers –Amazon being perhaps the best example to use here. Amazon is a company that survived the dot com crash of 2001 and has continued to successfully reinvent itself over the years, moving seamlessly into the area of user-generated content.
Amazon offers an intensely personalised experience for potential purchasers. One is encouraged to create a user account and is then able to make ‘wish-lists’ of desired purchases (these can be browsed by relatives looking for the ideal gift or even web surfers who wish to make a donation in kind to certain individual webmasters in thanks for the information received on the site), add peer reviews to items that one already owns to encourage or discourage future buyers, buy and sell second-hand purchases via Marketplace (very useful for students in assisting with course related text books that may only be needed for a short period of time) and give onsite feedback about such sellers and purchasers. This experience becomes ever more deeply personalised the more often a user visits the site, because a personal page is created based on previous browsing and buying patterns with ‘recommendations’ made about similar items one may wish to consider purchasing. This approach has proved to be so successful and popular with the general public that the name Amazon has become as synonymous with online book purchases as Google has with online search.
The Web 2.0 experience is not just confined to business transactions, of course. In fact, businesses are only just beginning to explore the notion that encouraging the use of ‘social software’ by its employees and customers can have a beneficial effect on the business as a whole, but that is definitely a subject for further study at a later date, perhaps.
In this series of essays, we do briefly touch upon Enterprise 2.0 and I am indebted to Dion Hinchcliffe – whom I dont actually know personally – but whose excellent articles helped me to understand some of the more technical aspects of Web 2.0 in the Enterprise and whose colourful graphics (properly attributed of course!) certainly livened up the presentation of my document! You can also follow Dion on Twitter @dhinchcliffe
Read the next article in the series:
Exploring Social Software
Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA