Web 2.0 is a “buzzword” that came into play around 2004, and is most often credited to Tim O’Reilly. To clarify the meaning, he later stated:
Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.
I think the more “basic” explanation would be that a Web 2.0 site does something for you.
When the Web first started, it was very static; Web pages really did nothing more than serve as a way to convey information to users. There was really no way for users to interact with the website, and you merely sat there and read. One quote I read that sums this up is from Darren Barefoot, and he said, “Web 1.0 was about lectures, Web 2.0 is about conversation”. You really can’t sum it up any more succinctly than that.
As designers got more savvy, and came up with more intensive ways for a site to deliver the information, they found they could get web sites to do more than just sit there, doing nothing. A whole new breed of web service was born that the service existed solely on the web without any “offline” use. This led to O’Reilly also assigning levels to web companies.
Level-2: These are sites have some functionality offline, but gain major advantages from when you are connected to the Internet. Since Google Docs can now work offline, but you lose features when you do so, this would fall into this category.
Level-1: Level-1 sites work offline, but gain functionality online that aren’t essential to their operation. iTunes, for instance, gains a store when you are online, but when you are offline, you still have access to all of your music and other features.
Level-0: The last level is any application that is the same online as off.
Besides the functionality, there was also a move to what I call “the candifying of the Web”. It is a mixture of glossy/shiny graphics and a dwindling supply of domain names that ended in the extension of “.com”. People have become comfortable with “.com” and that is the first thing they think of when they hear a websites name; very rarely will you see someone immediately think of “.net”, “.org”, or any of the other ways a domain name may end. This quickly deplenishing pool of names led to companies choosing names for their websites that had little or no connection to what they do, or they would take any odd spelling they could find that might be close.
Skype, which I mentioned above, is a company that allows you to make free phone calls over the Internet from one user to another, and while very useful, the name is nonsensical. What is a “Skype”? What does it have to do with phone calls? No one knows! The list of companies with names such as this is endless: Bebo (a social network), Flickr (a place to share photos), Yelp (a directory for local businesses and reviews) and so on.
The shiny graphics tricks, such as with Skype’s logo above, is that it became a quick way for people to have a visual cue that the site they are using is Web 2.0. However, glossy graphics does not a 2.0 service make. When using a site, and you are unsure, ask yourself if the site is allowing you to contribute in some way? Is it allowing you to generate your own content? Does it somehow allow you to collaborate with others? Is your experience with the site a dynamic one? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, than you are using a Web 2.0 site, welcome to the future!
People that work inside of the technology field, such as myself, have come to have a bit of disdain for the term “Web 2.0″ because it is over used, but it is still a quick way to identify this movement inside of the Internet community. All I can do is encourage you to do is get out there and see what the web has to offer you, it is a constantly changing landscape these days, and there is a service out there for just about every need now.
If you would like to learn more about the constantly changing field of Web 2.0, I recommend blogs such as Mashable (disclosure: I work there), ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch to give you the latest info on what is going on.