What is Web 2.0?

Q. Are you familiar with the term “Web 2.0?”

A. No I am not.  What is it, like a new software release?

This dialogue occurred about a year ago between me and a senior executive of a leading North American company.  The executive has multiple degrees and the company was highly dependent upon the capture and analysis of massive amounts of data.  From this discussion, I realized how confusing the term Web 2.0″ is and how few senior executives understood what it is, much less how leading corporations and other enterprises are applying the philosophy and technical applications of social media to increase collaboration among their employees, business partners and customers and maximize profits.

The genesis of the confusing term “Web 2.0″

Web 2.0 is a term coined in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly that refers to the next evolution of the internet. Although not a new technology “release,” this evolution is powered by a series of technologies, processes and technology standards that enable active user involvement and collaboration with corporate and community sites.

Web 2.0 is sometimes referred to as Social Computing, Social Media Technologies, Social Networking and Social or S-Commerce.

As the discussion with this executive demonstrated, the term is misleading, because one of the important things to understand about Web 2.0 applications are that their underlying technologies are not new, are usually incredibly stable and more often than not relatively inexpensive and easy to apply.  Others have commented on the misleading nature of the term, including Mark Cuban in his Blog Maverick

That is what has made Web 2.0 so interesting. Web 2.0 isn’t about technology. It’s about ideas implemented around simple applications that have been around for years. The maturity of the technology makes the implementation of ideas simple. That is the key to success in Web 2.0. The technology always works. It may sound crazy to some, but that’s the reality. The internet as a connectivity utility and the browser are mature application platforms.

Popular Web 2.0 Applications

Well known social media technologies include blogs, user generated content, mash-ups, RSS feeds, wikis, and social networking.  In a 2007 McKinsey Quarterly article, How businesses are using We 2.0, the authors offered the following descriptions (we have added some examples):

Blogs (short for Web logs) are online journals or diaries hosted on a Web site and often distributed to other sites or readers using RSS feeds (see below).

Mash-ups are aggregations of content from different online sources to create a new service.  An example would be a program that pulls apartment listings from one site and displays them on a Google map to show where the apartments are located.

RSS (stands for “Really Simple Syndication”) allows people to subscribe to online distributions of news, blogs, podcasts, or other information.

Social Networking refers to systems that allow members of a specific site to learn about skills, talents, knowledge or preferences of other members. Commercial examples include Facebook and MySpace.  Some companies use these systems to help identify experts.

Wikis, such as Wikipedia, are systems for collaborative publishing.  They allow many authors to contribute to an online document or discussion.

O’Reilly’s evolution of the web

In his now famous 2004 article, What is Web 2.0?, O’Reilly used this chart to demonstrate the evolution of the internet and web sites from company out sources of information to company, user and community generated platforms for continuous interaction:

Underwood Partners’ view

Web 1.0 “interactions” were often passive, company out and company centric.  Web 2.0 interactivity is active, often user generated and community and interest-centric.   We believe Web 2.0 technology enables companies and organizations to use the internet to finally begin to realize the “interactive” promise of interactive communications across and among all spheres: employees; business partners and customers.