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Web 2.0

In the aftermath of the Web 1.0 crash, the glut of infrastructure kept the costs of going online low. That simple fact helped attract even more users to come online. A few companies began to figure out how to leverage the Web without going bankrupt. Collectively, their embrace of the Internet represented the slow expansion of the Web from that last primordial blast. New marketplaces evolved as sites like eBay linked buyers and sellers from around the globe. These online flea markets, in turn, spawned communities that helped pioneer the concepts behind new social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

By 2006, the firms that had simultaneously feared and tried to control Web 1.0 looked up from licking their wounds and saw the dawn of a new paradigm. In a symbolic changing of the guard, "old media" giant Time magazine announced the Person of the Year was "You."6 There was no great single occurrence that made this milestone possible. Rather, the driving force was the confluence of many events: the spread of cheap broadband access, the Web-enabling of multiple devices, the arrival of new communication environments, and the emergence of cooperative environments for organizing information. Collaborators were finally running the show.

Industry figurehead Tim O'Reilly is credited with popularizing the term "Web 2.0" to define this new age:

  • Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.7

A simpler working definition is that Web 2.0 is a shift from transaction-based Web pages to interaction-based ones. This is how the power of "You" is mashed, mixed, and multiplied to create value. Social-networking sites, folksonomies (collaborative tagging, social bookmarking), wikis, blogs, and mashups are just some of the components that make this possible. The success of sites such as Facebook, wikipedia, flikr, and digg has demonstrated that democratization of content creation and manipulation is powering the latest wave of Internet growth.

The underlying driver of Web 2.0 is flexibility. The one trait technologies slapped with the Web 2.0 moniker share is that they are extremely (and perhaps sometimes unintentionally) malleable. The successful products don't break when a user tries to extend them beyond their original design; they bend to accept new uses. Two success stories of the new Web illustrate this principle:

  • flickr was started by Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield as an add-on feature for a video game they were developing. The idea was to allow players to save and share photos during gameplay. When they realized that bloggers needed a convenient way to store and share photos, Fake and Butterfield started adding blog-friendly features. Opening up their architecture to allow users of the site to create custom enhancements fueled their viral spread. The original game was ultimately shelved and flickr was sold to Yahoo! a year later for an undisclosed sum.
  • Deli.cio.us grew from a simple text file that its founder, Joshua Schachter, used to keep track of his personal collection of tens of thousands of Web site links. When the site went public in 2003, it spawned a host of add-ons. The concept of associating data with simple keywords to aid in organization wasn't new, but the cooperative "social tagging" aspect of deli.cio.us resonated with the frustrations of other Internet users.
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