30 Jul

The Foundation: Web 2.0’s Central Concepts Made Simple

To begin with, what is Web 2.0? As I said before, I’m almost three years late in answering this question. It was pretty thoroughly answered by a guy named Tim O’Reilly who wrote an essay called – wait for it – “What is Web 2.0?” but since it’s a long article and Google is making us all stupider, I’ll go over the highlights.

As I understand it, Web 2.0 is essentially about two things: 1) the collective, and 2) data management.

First, the collective.

As O’Reilly states in his article, “hyperlinking is the foundation of the web.” When you add a new site to the web, it becomes bound to the whole net by people linking to and from it. This linking happens naturally and organically as people navigate through links. Of course, hyperlinking isn’t new. But what we’ve come to learn after a decade of widespread internet use is that the link structure gives us the best indication of the best content. Google, which is one of the most prominent harbingers of the Web 2.0 revolution, utilizes the “link structure” of the web to return results. That is, Google has programs that can read page “importance” through its PageRank technology.

Other sites have followed suit. Digg allows people to read articles that others have “dugg” or deemed worth reading. Sites like del.icio.us do the same with bookmarking web pages and articles. Various image bookmarking sites (like FFFFound and we heart it) operate along the same philosophy, which is that other users of the web can indeed tell you what’s worth investigating.

And that’s the core philosophy of Web 2.0: to rely on the collective, to trust the mob of people out there. Use their linking and navigation and knowledge to deliver better content.

Wikipedia has been the most blatant experiment in mob trust with its anyone-can-edit-it approach, but they’re not the only ones. Amazon also uses mob trust quite a bit. They allow their customers to post reviews of books (and other products), and they also provide “personalized recommendations” and that “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section.

Further down their pages, you can also find a section labeled, “Suggested Tags for Similar Products.” Tags are very Web 2.0 as well. And O’Reilly points to Flickr as the exemplar of tagging and “folksonomy.” Folksonomy, as opposed to taxonomy, is a method of categorization that relies on – guess who? “” the users.

The message here is one of decentralization. Let the people organize things. Let them add new information. Hell, let them even develop and modify the products and services offered. This approach stands in contrast to the approach of the 90s, which was about “publishing, not participation . . . advertisers, not consumers.” But nowadays, it’s the “collective power of small sites” that really determines the web’s content.

A case in point: We Feel Fine. Read More