What is Web 2.0?

While Web 2.0 isn’t exactly a direct upgrade of Web 1.0, it’s a whole new world consisting of interactivity with a capital ‘I’

When the Internet came, it connected everyone in the world. With emails you could keep in touch and finally search engines helped you wade through the billions of web pages. However, most of its initial applications were ‘static’ with very little scope for genuine interactivity.

In fact, when Tim-Berners Lee laid the foundation of the World Wide Web, he had seen something much more democratic and personal. And we have come closer to that vision in the last couple of years.

Web 2.0 is a concept popularized in 2004 and it describes in one stroke concepts like podcasts, blogs, wikis, tags, etc as against ‘static’ web pages, retroactively named Web 1.0.

An important ingredient of Web 2.0 is Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). Ajax helps in making a web page more user friendly, increases the speed with which you can bring about changes and more importantly, increases the interactivity.

DHTML or Dynamic HTML is also a great way of making dynamic websites. And thanks to API (Application Programming Interface), there is a great deal of data exchange between sites and users. Some of the sites that use API are Wikipedia, eBay, Flickr and Skype.

What’s the new Web all about?

Some of the other terms that have described Web 2.0 have included ‘collaborative Internet’ and ‘architecture of participation.’ While the exact definition of Web 2.0 is elusive, there are some websites and trends that give you a pretty good idea.

Wikipedia: In the past encyclopedias got updated once a year and there was none that could cater to every country and every genre of knowledge. That was before Wikipedia, the world’s first very own encyclopedia ‘of the people, for the people and by the people.’ With 1 million articles and still counting, who knows what shape this will take in a few years from now. While there has been a lot of talk about factual errors, this still remains a great place to get a general idea of almost everything under the sun. (http://en.wikipedia.org)

Blogs: Every person in the world can be a reporter. Everyone can be a columnist. And everyone can be an analyst. While such a concept would have been laughable just a few years back, it’s a reality today. Just about anyone can become a blogger and become famous for his or her views. The Sony DRM fiasco began with a blogger. The Apple Nano scratch muddle began with a blogger. Who knows how much more powerful a blogger might become tomorrow. (www.blogger.com, http:// googleblog.blogspot.com)

Podcasts: While the iPod and iTunes became legends in their own right, podcasts became big time too. Now you can make your own video and audio shows and distribute them in cyberspace. If 2004 was the Year of the Blog, then in 2005, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared ‘Podcasting’ the word of the year. Key in Podcast in Google and you’ll know why. A word that didn’t exist a few years ago now gets you more than 100 million searches. (www.i podder.org, www. podcast.net)

RSS feeds: Rich Site Summary. Really Simple Syndication. Call it what you will. RSS really has changed the way we get news. While a lot of people had predicted the demise of newspapers after news sites came out, that didn’t exactly happen. The much touted newsletters also didn’t take off. However, here’s something that promises to go a long way. Customize newsfeeds the way you want them delivered at your desktop.

Google AdSense: In the early days of the Net, popups were the biggest irritants and when they went intrusive, banner ads weren’t liked that much either. Then came about Google AdSense that gave ‘unintrusive’ and ‘relevant’ ads to a website. Google uses its advance search methodology, checks the user’s location and other factors and checks the site’s content before zeroing down on relevant ads. Call them interactive ads if you will.

Flickr: This is a cool site which uses tags to form a worldwide photo sharing platform. Thanks to these tags, it’s easy to save, share and search for the photos from a huge database. Flickr has more than 2 million users and so far more than 100 million photos have been posted. Bloggers can also simultaneously post pictures on Flickr and their own blogs. Yahoo saw what a big thing Flickr was and bought it out. (www.flickr.com)

del.icio.us: Who would have thought a bookmarking site would have such a future. But that’s exactly the story of del.icio.us, which lets you store links of your favorite sites, articles and blogs on the web which you can then access from any computer and share with your friends. There’s even a mobilicio.us for the mobile. Recently, Washingtonpost.com also entered into a tie-up with del.icio.us. (http://del.icio.us, http://mobilicio.us)

BitTorrent: If Napster started the biggest lending library in the world, BitTorrent took it much further. It was perhaps the first really democratic P2P network. BitTorrent breaks down a file into fragments across a network and when you download a file, you get the fragments from various peers. (www.bittorrent .com)

Orb: This is a great way of accessing selected files from your computer via streaming anywhere in the world. You can also share these files, videos and songs with all your friends.  All you have to do is email them a link and they gain access to the Orb-shared part of your computer. The best part is that you can also use your PDA apart from your PC and laptop. (www.orb.com)

Rollyo: If you want to roll your own search engine, then head straight to Rollyo. That’s a search engine you customize by choosing the sites you want to be shown in a search. (www.rollyo.com)

In a science fiction novel written many years ago, the author predicted that every person will have an interconnected computer, which, among many other things, would also be a personal voting machine. Global issues would be debated and a decision would take place within hours thanks to the whole world being able to vote easily and effortlessly. That’s the kind of practical applications that Web 2.0 promises in the long run.

(This article appeared in the April 2006 edition of Living Digital magazine)