Monday, September 15, 2008

Notes on Web 2.0: Part1
Web 2.0 is one of the most popular buzzword around. Lot of people have written about it, lot of books are available in the market. I have tried to compile the variety of information available and give a multi-dimensional overview of the Web2.0.
This is a very easy to understand discussion and should be helpful to everybody who is interested in knowing more about Web 2.0. I will be providing lot of examples to support the information. The article might look like collection of disconnected information, I have deliberately done this because my aim is to act like a collector for information on the web 2.0 from various sources and dump it….A kind of aggregator
The article will help readers to get a starting point and a breadth of information about Web 2.0. Since there are too many things to cover I thought it to be a nice idea to divide the article into parts. Part 1 is a general overview of the Web 2.0 philosophy. In Part 2 I will be discussing about the business impact of Web. Like every Web 2.0 discussion starts with Tim Oreilly’s Web2.0 Diagram, I will also follow the tradition.

  • So what is it?

In simple terms web 2.0 is a set of patterns seen in today’s online sites and businesses that has radically changed the way the web used to be.Web 2.0 is a read and write web, meaning instead of users just reading the information presented to them, they are also allowed to modify the content of the site.

Rather than calling a website we call it a web application in Web 2.0 scenario. This is because earlier the content that was available on the web was just static pages, but now there is a wide variety of content available: web sites, web services, mashups, RSS, Social Networking sites, Video sharing , photo sharing. When we say that it is a Web 2.0 application, it means that we can find some of the design principles of the web 2.0 in the application which have been defined by Tim O’Reilly while coining the term ( ): . Since they are the design principles, they are just the guidelines on which your application should be based:

  1. The Long Tail: It is the first indication of User Centric approach. It means that the applications should be more targeted towards the masses than the niche. If a site is for very specific user set than the popularity will be just among those users, but if the site is for the common masses millions of users will be using it. YouTube( ) , Flickr ( ) are all the followers of this philosophy. The site is open to masses. We will see later that long tail is the reason why Web 2.0 businesses have grown from 0 to billions in a span of 2 years
  2. Data is the Next Intel Inside: Just like the core part of the system is the processor, similarly the core part of the web application is the data that it is providing. People go to Flickr because Flickr has got one of the largest searchable database of Photos. YouTube sits on millions of Videos that users can search for, and view them. Data has become the identity of the web business. We will discuss this in length in the next part of this article
  3. User Add value: This I would say is the core of Web 2.0. If the application has does not allow the user to add some kind of meta data or the content, then it is not a Web 2.0 application. I have discussed it in length in the later part of the article
  4. Network Effects by Default: The value of application increases with the growing number of users. Fax would have been useless if there were not many users ready to send and receive the fax. The value of the product is not what the product is but how many people are ready to use it. The users will come to a social networking site because they find their friends on the site (orkut, facebook), users visit ebay because they find buyers for their products. If tomorrow the buyers stop coming to ebay, the sellers will also stop. People are ready to write applications on facebook because they think that their friends are going to use it and appreciate them. So Web 2.0 applications grow because of the user base and their constant engagement with the site. In order to understand it more please refer to ,, Also “Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business thinking and strategies behind successful Web 2.0 implementations” by Amy Shuen ( will be invaluable to understand some of the business implications of network effects.
  5. Some Rights Reserved: Normally people have Intellectual property rights which prevents users from modifying the content or using them in other places. Since Web 2.0 is all about people and their collaboration, strict licensing cannot be productive. The Applications are designed to encourage people to contribute…In words of Tim O’Reilly the Design for Hackability and Remixability
  6. The Perpetual Beta: Web 2.0 has introduced a new kind of development model called Perpetual Beta. The applications will be launched and called as Beta versions. This is because they are continuously being improved by following the users feedback. Some of the applications are building daily more than once. Flickr went from many iterations from what it was when Yahoo! Bought it to what it is now.Applications need no hard media to distribute since its all web based so the deployment means just loading the executable on the web server.
  7. Software above the level of a single device: Applications have to talk to various other applications to come up with a good use. Design the applications to integrate the services across handheld devices, PCs, web applications.
  8. Cooperate, Don’t Control: No Body is the boss. The stories published on Digg ( ) are what readers want to read and not what NewYork times want the readers to read. Wikipedia ( ) is a collaborative effort of millions of people towards building up a encyclopedia. Nobody contols Wikipedia. Web 2.0 applications give their user the resources to utilize in what ever manner they want. This has been reflected in growth of numerous businesses: YouTube, Flickr, facebook ( ), Amazon ( ) and list goes on.

A good web 2.0 application will have the 3 main features

  1. Good content, data: Data is what attracts the users. People come to Flickr because of the large database of photos, Amazon provides a rich database of the books and so on. The data is essentially easy to search.
  2. Social Architecture: Enable the users to interact and work collectively. For e.g. the users can view the photos of other users, they can write scraps, they can create their profile, express themselves on blogs, they can connect to different people gives a detail overview of what is social architecture is all about.
  3. Architecture of participation: Users can add content to the existing applications. Flickr allows them to upload photos, Youtube videos, wikipedia allows the user to add new wiki page and so on

In short the Web2.0 can be defined as:

intelligent search=Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is all about the buzz words and jargons. The following are some of them

We can categorize these buzzwords into few categories:

  1. AJAX
  2. RSS
  3. ATOM
  4. RIA
  5. SOAP
  6. REST
  7. CSS
  9. Ruby on Rails
  10. Open APIs

User Collaboration/Social Aspect

  1. Participation
  2. Trust
  3. Accessibility
  4. Remixability
  5. Folksonomy
  6. Ranking
  7. Social Networks
  8. Communities
  9. Forums
  10. Viral Feedback Loop

Content creation

  1. Wikis
  2. Blogs
  4. Recommendations
  5. Reviews

User Experience

  1. Joy of Use
  2. Simplicity
  3. Interactive media

Even though we say that Web2.0 is a read/write web but the number of users who really add the contents are very few.
We can divide the users into 3 categories
  • Users who create the content
  • Users who add the meta data information, so they add value to the existing content
  • Users who are just reading the content: more of a web 1.0 behavior but majority of the users is like this

Trust plays an important role in Web 2.0 applications.

  • Wikipedia allows the users to add the wiki pages on the various topics. Nobody is controlling the information, it is all about the trust that the users will not enter wrong and objectionable stuff.
  • ebay whole business model is based on trust. It facilitates the buyers and sellers to reach to a deal. Both the parties are unknown but still engage themselves in business
  • Social networking sites allow the users to add their personal information. The personal information plays an important role in connecting the people. Trust is the main factor why people are ready to enter their personal information and supporting the model of social networking sites

Web 2.0 applications are known for providing rich user experience: AJAX is almost necessary component for building the applications. AJAX provides the dynamic updates of the page without actually refreshing the entire page.The web sites will generally have components like maps, RSS feeds, videos, dynamically updating controls, glassy icons.

Sites are pushing information to the user. This is one of the major change from the earlier web sites and the current websites. Early websites (web1.0) required users to regularly visit the site to check if some new updates have been done. This is not a very clever solution since the probability of user doing this is very low except for the few websites. Suppose I am a fan of Linux journal , I might take the pain of visiting the site everyday to check if some new article has been published. But another user who is not that crazy about Linux might not take pain to visit the site regularly. In this manner the site is loosing on its users. Web 2.0 has a very well documented notification mechanism RSS which is all about updating the users about any changes on the site. So with RSS I don’t have to go to Linux Journal site. Instead I will just subscribe to the RSS feed from the site which keeps updating with any updates on the site. So I get the notification once the site is updated and so I can then visit the site.

Tagging/Folksnomy: Tagging helps users to categorize their content on the web. Delicious is based on tagging. The users bookmark the links by categorizing them with a tag. This helps in easy searching of the bookmarks later. Flickr allows the user to categorize their photos by giving meaningful tags. They can later search the photos based on the tags. Tagging has got lot of meta information which is quite valuable. Refer to my blog posting for the benefits of tagging

Web as platform: Web 2.0 is laying the foundation on which users can build the applications. It is providing the basic components/modules that are required to build applications. A typical application will require a Database, some APIs or libraries, messaging system to communicate between different components, UI, some kind of computation that is the brain of the application. Normally a person will use the Database from some vendor, APIs from other vendor, use a programming language for writing logic and bind them together. He will use some Hardware to run the application. So basically the different modules or technologies for creating an application are used from different vendors and assembled to get the final product.

The same concept is supported by the various applications of the Web 2.0. We have different type of modules that can be used to create new applications
1. Storage Services(equivalent to data storage in desktop applications): Amazon S3
2. Compute Service: Amazon EC2 which provide a computing facility. You can run your application on Amazon’s hardware
3. Information Services: A rich set of APIs providing specialized data. Like Google map, Flickr, Twitter, Delicious, Amazon, ebay
4. Messaging Service : They are like middleware concept passing the messages from one application to another. Amazon Simple Queue Service is one such example.
5. Various technologies like AJAX, RIA, SOAP, REST, CSS, XML, Ruby on Rails, Grail and so on

I have earlier posted the platform concept in depth on my blog which I would suggest will help a lot. Tim O’Reilly has discussed it in length in his classic Web 2.0 discussion.

Remixing and Mashups: Mashup means blend distinct data from 2 or more sources/APIs together to add more value to what was already there. E.g There are map APIs from Google which allows you to get the map based on Latitudes/Longitudes. They can be blended with a News data so that clicking on any place on the map will give the News related to that area. Now this is a blending of two data to produce something that is more valuable.They are one of the most popular reasons for the disruptive growth of web. Google Maps, Flickr, YouTube, Amazon provides APIs through which users create a new application making use of the data from these sites. For e.g. User might use the Google Map APIs to create a real estate agent site. User might love to see photographs of any place in the world. He can combine Google Maps and Flickr APIs to do so.
Apart from the fun part, mashups do have lot of business value in them. Real estate business has benefited with the sites where they can get the real time property rates and the geographic maps for the site so that the clients can see the property before buying it.

Web 2.0 applications generally display the 3 dimensions
  1. Technical: The Applications are created using some of the most advanced
    languages/software. SOAP, REST, RSS, AJAX, Ruby on Rails, GWT etc. The
    whole mashup thing has taken the SOAP and REST to new heights. (They
    are the new versions of SOA).
  2. Users Centric: User Centric aspect I have discussed a lot and will be revisiting later
  3. Business: Web 2.0 applications are running into big busisnesses. Youtube, facebook, mySpace made billions in a short span of time. We will be looking into the business aspect of Web 2.0 in the next part of the Notes.

The Web 2.0 is not only for the techie guys who are deep into coding and stuff. A web 2.0 application can be built by or owned by a completely non technical person. It takes just 5 minutes to start your blog site and start blogging ( check ). Any person can use Google Ads to start getting the Ads on the site. Google provides a very easy way to start you own portal (iGoogle). Even if there is a need for programming, it is very simple and most of the times the sample code is available, the user just has to make some minute changes to get it working.The most popular APIs are the ones which are easy to use. This is because the APIs are being used by a diversity of people (from techie to non techie).

Today almost every type of application is available on the web:
a. Videos/Audios sharing: YouTube

b. Photo Sharing: Flickr

c. Social Networking: Facebook, Orkut, MySpace

d. Books: Amazon

e. Storage: Amazon S3

f. Computing Facility: Amazon EC2

g. Trading: ebay,PayPal

h. Bookmarking: Delicious

i. Maps: Google,Yahoo!

j. Office Applications (word, excel): Google Docs, Zoho

k. Project Management: Zoho

l. Encyclopedia: Wikipedia

m. Messaging: Twitter, skype

And the list goes on. It is not too far when you need not install anything on the system, all software including OS will be web based. You will just require a very scale down version of say Linux to get the browser running and Web 2.0 will take it from there

Let me spend some time on how users have contributed in making the applications better.

  1. Wikipedia is the best example of user content that has helped in creating one of the largest encyclopedia.
  2. The search results on Google are very much dependent on how many users have referenced the links, popularity of the page, any meta information associated
  3. Flickr allows users to tag the photos. This has helped Flickr to improve their search results drastically
  4. YouTube is all about sharing the Videos. Users create the video and share it..Broadcast Yourself.
  5. Facebook is allowing the users to build up new applications and host them on facebook…as expected it is one of the latest craze among the facebook users
  6. Digg is all about users adding their votes to make the news to show up on the main page or not
  7. Amazon Product Reviews is one of the major ways how people get to know which is the better product. The users search keywords and shopping history help Amazon to find out the shopping tendency of users, so that they can “suggest” what is bought along a particular product. So you bought a book on Design Patterns by Gang of Four and there comes a Amazon suggestion saying those who bought this book also bought “Refactoring by Martin Fowler” All this is user added meta data that is helping Amazon to serve its user better
  8. Delicious tags are added by the users. They have a great value in making the links searchable. Find out more about the tagging from my posts and

This should give an overview of Web 2.0. I think I have touched base on all the key aspects of the philosophy. I will cover the business impact of web 2.0 in great details in the next part of the article. In case you want me to explain some portion of the article in more details kindly leave a comment.You can follow me on delicious for web 2.0 related links.


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