Web 2.0 Revolution: Power to the People

From blogs to social networks, the newest Web is redefining the way we use technology.
Aug 01, 2006
By Applied Clinical Trials Editors

Paul Bleicher
If you haven't looked for it, you may have missed the quiet revolution occurring on the Internet. The change in the Web, dubbed "Web 2.0," is likely to improve the value and usability of the Internet for consumers, and has major untapped potential for corporate and other business users.

Web 2.0 is one of those elusive Web terms that is used to describe many disparate threads of change. However, there are some shared underlying principles of Web 2.0 companies and platforms, which we'll discuss later.

For a definition of Web 2.0, we can turn to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that is itself a shining example of the potential for the new approach to the Web:

"The term Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages...The concept may include blogs and wikis."

To understand Web 2.0, we must appreciate its origins and roots. Some of you may not realize that there was even a Web 1.0, so it probably makes sense to start at the beginning.

Weaving history

When the World Wide Web (WWW) was first defined, it consisted almost entirely of static Web pages that each contained hyperlinks. A destination Web presence might have been a university, institution or company with an interlinking series of pages. Web directories such as Yahoo were established to categorize and provide search functionality for these sites. Web 1.0 was an exciting frontier for the pioneer Web surfer, and one that was easily mastered.

Once established, the WWW underwent almost continuous evolution, which was driven by the introduction of a variety of more dynamic technologies (Java, Shockwave and Flash, dynamic HTML, etc.). Web pages were dynamically created from a database, and the database could be customized for each user. For example, Yahoo evolved into My Yahoo for many users—a highly customized, dynamic portal of information and services that met the needs of each individual.

This newer Web is referred to by some as Web 1.5 and encompasses much of the Web as we experience it today. Web 1.5 linked bricks and mortar with the Web, leading to a major shift in the way we get our news; buy our clothing, electronic "toys," and books; and obtain information. It was built on the framework of Web 1.0 but added a variety of tools and an evolving sense of style and design.

Web 2.0 also builds upon the foundations of all that has come before it but takes some radical departures. The idea of tying together a group of disparate new Web applications and platforms was developed by two conference organizers (O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International) when brainstorming a conference concept. Web 2.0 was defined, more or less, by example: Companies that were old school (i.e., Web 1.0) and those that were new school (i.e., Web 2.0).

Before identifying unifying concepts, let's look at a few examples of Web 2.0 concepts.

Newer arrivals

The Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.com/). An astounding example of the power of the commons, Wikipedia serves as a gigantic and very current encyclopedia that is created and maintained by its users. In contrast to a Web 1.0 encyclopedia (Britannica Online, for example), Wikipedia is completely dependent on users to create, update, and provide quality control for the content of its articles. The technology itself is very simple, open source software, but the power of the Wikipedia is the vast database of very detailed information on almost any topic, far exceeding most online encyclopedias in terms of detail and, often, quality of information.

Of course, since anybody can edit a Wikipedia article, some controversial topics can become battlegrounds for ideology. However, Wikipedia users are hopefully sophisticated enough to understand this and to take it into account when using the information.

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