Web 2 4 U

By Will Rourk

The term Web 2.0 was put into the public psyche by O’Reilly Media during the first Web 2.0 conference in 2004. O’Reilly press is responsible for a majority of web technologies manuals and programming guides widely recognized by their trademark zoomorphic colophon. From the words of Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 allows for the “harnessing (of) collective intelligence” by “opening data and services for re-use by others.” “Web 2.0 was the moment when we stopped using computers and started using the internet,” he bellowed, and indeed, the World Wide Web has evolved to a level of sophistication that elevates us from mere passive observers to active participants of networked content and information.

Web trend map, c. 2007. Image courtesy Otto Nassar.


Web 2.0 is an attitude and its products foster an environment where anyone can get their message out. Blogs like WordPress and Google’s Blogspot give people the space to pour out their ideas through text, audio, or YouTube or your annotated photos on Flickr. Web 2.0 allows you to pull in just the news you find relevant via RSS or Atom feeds so that you can aggregate or “mash-up” information in ways that are meaningful to your perspective. Aggregated news websites like reddit and digg let their readers become the editors by presenting news that has been tagged as interesting and relevant.

Fundamentally, Web 2.0 is all about networking, or better yet, working the net. Social networking services don’t expect you to simply gawk at someone else’s personal presentation of content—you are expected to share yourself, as well. In the world of Web 1.0, or the Web-as-we-knew-it, a person’s presence on the Web was like a one way street. You published your images, your essays and maybe even your video clips, and your goal was to lure people to that information so they could experience it like a magazine, all published and presented in a static unchangeable form. With Web 2.0 your content becomes everyone’s content, and everyone’s content becomes yours. The goal of creating a presence on the Web does not merely satisfy the need to be self-published but rather to participate in the promotion of a common interest through syndication. It is the potential for the sharing of ideas and collaboration.

Web presence is now synonymous with participation. Search Facebook or YouTube for “sustainable design” and you will be presented with a collection of web locations sponsored by individuals, special interest groups, and design firms that not only allows you to absorb content but add your own thoughts and content.

But mobile technologies are really where all of this is headed. The smartphone is evolving into a more robust handheld computing device with the help of technologies such as Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating systems. With these phones you can take Web 2.0 with you no matter where you go since the Web runs quite smoothly on 3G high bandwidth networks. Technologies that combine GPS with software such as Dopplr and Google’s Latitude make your phone a location-aware device so that social networking in a mobile environment begins to foster more real-space collaborations. With Web 2.0 apps running on your mobile device perhaps we’ll be making more face-to-face rather than Facebook meetups.

Unsurprisingly though, the next paradigm-changing technology to affect the Web is already upon us. Web 2.0 has perhaps already peaked, and now we can anticipate even greater utility from the Web. The next phase is not necessarily called “Web 3.0,” but a trend towards what has become recognized as “cloud computing,” in which your favorite applications like Word, Photoshop, or CAD no longer clutter your computer. You just access the applications you need from an applications service provider via a technology called SaaS, or “software as a service.” Google has already given us a taste of this with applications like Google Docs, a robust, fully featured, and free text editor. In fact, I typed this article and stored it in my own Google Docs account.

You may have just read your first dispatch from the “cloud.”

Will Rourk is a digital media specialist in the University of Virginia Library System’s Digital Medial Lab.

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