CIRCA:Web 2.0


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Web 2.0 is a conceptual term applied to the emergence of a new way of using and thinking about the web. The term was first used in 1999, but it did not become widely used until 2004 after a conference on the topic was hosted by Tim O'Reilly.



In her article Fragmented Future, Darcy DiNucci (1999) foresaw the future of the web. She writes:

"The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. It will [...] appear on your computer screen, [...] on your TV set [...] your car dashboard [...] your cell phone [...] hand-held game machines [...] maybe even your microwave oven."

Web 2.0 emerged during the time of the dot-com bubble burst. By the end of 2002, more than $5 trillion was lost due to over speculation of the value of web based businesses on the NASDAQ [1]. bubble

Still, over 50% of dot-coms survived the burst[2], and, as DiNucci (1999) predicted, webpages began the transformation from static to interactive.

As usage of the term began to spread, O'Reilly called a conference [3] in 2004 to hash out, debate and discuss it's meaning.

Defining Characteristics

According to O'Reilly (2005) [4] web pages and companies that are truly classifiable as 'Web 2.0' exhibit a number of core competencies.

  • Services, not packaged software or platforms [5]
Web 2.0 products move beyond the packaging through 'value-added' offerings. A good example of this is the difference between the Microsoft Office suite and Google Docs (or Drive, as it is now called). While Office products are only available on the computer on which they were registered, Google's Drive applications can be accessed from any computer or device with a web connection. The service they are providing is accessibility and portability, as well as cloud storage and sharing, something Office is incapable of doing.
  • Control over unique, hard to recreate data sources [6]
"SQL is the new HTML" (Hal Varian). Specialized databases are a significantly important aspect of Web 2.0. As the size (and information footprint) of the web continues to exponentially increase, so must the ability of users access that information. Searchable, indexed databases are the backbone of the web, and they are what makes sites like Amazon, IMDB, and Google Search so accurate and effective.
  • Users as co-developers [7]
This refers to the practice of 'beta testing' where users of a product are given advance access to help developers identify 'bugs' or problems before a full scale release. Instead of hiring more developers, users provide the service for free, in exchange for the exclusivity of a 'pre-release'.
  • Collective intelligence [8]
Related to the idea of Folksonomy (see Tools & Technologies, below) where users provide content and share knowledge. Sites like Amazon, Wikipedia, eBay, and Yelp depend on user contributions for everything from restaurant reviews, online garage sales, and technical encyclopaedic content knowledge.
  • Leveraging the long tail [9]
O'Reilly envisions the structure of the web akin to that of a comet; a large bulbous head with an extremely long tail. He says that "narrow niches make up the bulk of the internet's possible applications"[10] and that the ability to reach out to that long tail is distinctly Web 2.0. An example of this is the vast online marketplace, where potential customers can find pretty much anything they want to buy, as long as a someone else online has the technical resources to sell it. [11]
  • Software above the level of a single device [12]
This is universal accessibility, being able to retrieve a document or entire program from multiple devices with seamless syncing in between. This refers to applications like Dropbox, Google Drive,and e-readers like Kobo and Kindle.
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models [13]
O'Reilly refers to this as "design for hackability and remixability"[14]. He argues that the 'view source' capabilities of web browsers make it possible for anyone to see the inherent design of a given webpage, and that successful web companies are those that make it easier for users to customize and rebuild their products.

Tools & Technologies

According to Charles Leadbeater Web 2.0 tools "allow the average user to organize online information in such a way that is useful, meaningful and personally relevant".[15] This allows users to navigate the web's "unfathomable amounts of information by capitalizing on it's inherent possibilities: collective intelligence, wide ranging knowledge, and social networks".[16]

Some of the tools and technologies that Leadbeater identifies as distinctly Web 2.0 are:[17]

  • Folksonomy - activities like linking, tagging, bookmarking etc. that allow users to classify the vast amount of information available online. A key aspect of a folksonomy is the 'personal' becoming the 'public'. Sites like Pinterest, where users 'pin' and classify content on personalized pinboards shared with others is a perfect example of a folksonomy.
  • Blogging
  • Social Networking
  • Wikis


Criticism of Web 2.0 is wide ranging and varied. Some say Web 2.0 is simply a meaningless buzzword or meme[18] promoted by O'Reilly to renew financial interest in the web after the dot-com bubble. Others argue that the characteristics that make Web 2.0 unique were around long before the early 2000s[19], especially for sites like Amazon and Google. There is also the issue of crowdsourcing (see 'Users as co-developers', above) wherein companies are getting for free what they once had to pay for by harnessing the collective power of web users. Some argue that this is exploitative.[20]

It has also been suggested that Web 2.0 is dead, and that we are now entering an era of Web 3.0[21].


Wikipedia: Web 2.0
Tim O'Reilly: What is Web 2.0
Darcy DiNucci: Fragmented Future
Charles Leadbeater: History of Web 2.0

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