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What actually is Web 2.0 and why should you care?

Kiruba Shankar  |  New Delhi 

Yesterday was the start of the Web Innovation Summit in Mumbai and the first panel, for which I was the moderator, focused on 'What is Web 2.0'.

At first glance, it would look like its a dumb topic, especially when the audience is predominantly from the industry. You would of course expect them to know what Web 2.0 is. Right? Well, you expected wrong.

It may be over three years that Web 2.0 has been in vogue, yet there's still a lot of ambiguity to what it stands for. A quick googling for the definition will surprise you in the versatility of the answers.

Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the Internet, describes the term "Web 2.0" as a "piece of jargon." "Nobody really knows what it means," he said in a podcast interview, and went on to say that "if Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along."

The guys at Delicious.com, the famous social bookmarking site ("http://blog.delicious.com/blog/2005/11/there_has_been_.html) decided to use the power of Web 2.0 itself to help define what Web 2.0 stands for. So, what they did was take one year worth of links that people have bookmarked and sorted out the tags that associated with Web 2.0 and to their surprise they landed over 7000 tags.

Let's take the wheat from the chaff and look at what it really stands for. Tim O'Reilly, who is credited with coining the term way back in 2004 has this to say: "Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform".

He goes on to provide a few examples. Sites like eBay, Wikipedia and Google Adsense derive their effectiveness from the inter-human connections. The effectiveness of this grows as more people participate in.

Bart Decrem, founder of Flock, calls Web 2.0 the "participatory Web".

The philosophy focuses on the idea that the people who use the internet don't just passively absorb the information but also actively contribute back thus benefiting the community. Wikipedia is a perfect example. The technologies encompassed by Web 2.0 include blogs, tags, RSS, social bookmarking and wikis.

With Web 2.0 type sites, it is possible to combine data from various sources, even sources that you don't own control or even exist, and turn that into data that people can use.

For example, if you are doing a restaurant review website, you could integrates blog posts with reviews of restaurants from specific blogs, integrate them with pictures of the restaurants from Flickr, add in videos from YouTube and connect them with Google Maps for directions. You may not own any of these data but you can actively collaborate to bring out useful meaningful applications.

Web 2.0 has a definitive use in corporations, though its highly under-utilised. Many think its do with Web 2.0 is not just about It's really about the users, the people.

The architecture of participation is baked into the architecture of the software. Web 2.0 lets you share and incorporate multiple voices"" your customers, your service reps, your employees""who quickly take the product, service, or idea in a direction that you could not alone.

Web 2.0 can help build your brands, reach out to the users, engage them with your brand, and help establish loyalty. Successful companies are using Web 2.0 concepts to encourage their customers to build communities around their products, provide feedback on products, and, in some cases, even inform strategy.

Sure, there are people who are critical of the term, but not its technology.

Web 2.0 is not about logos with glassy buttons, 'wet-floor' effects and the perpetual beta badges. It's how it utilises the power of collective knowledge. It's as good as we make good use of it.

The author is CEO of Business Blogging, a firm that advises big corporations on Social Media strategies.

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First Published: Fri, May 09 2008. 00:00 IST
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