Before I started the 747 class this semester I had never heard of the term “Web 2.0” In fact when I searched for “Web 2.0″ on Google I had  nearly 100 million search results. So what is it really? Can you tell by looking at it that it is definitively Web 2.0? And what difference does it make? In this post I’d like to examine some of  these questions, but to properly frame the discussion, we must ask what was Web 1.0?

The Internet Now and Then

Back in the early days of the Internet, everything was text. Browsers weren’t exactly what we think of them today. In fact, the internet was accessed via command lines, which were not practical for the standard user. Everything changed when hypertext was introduced and navigation became a point and click task and an easier operation for the common user. Hence the World Wide Web came into existence.

The Netscape Navigator was one of the first browsers on the market. Soon after, Microsoft introduced the Internet Explorer. And so the browser wars began. These early browsers employ the one way flow of information from the web to the user. It wasn’t until the flow of information from the user back to the web set the beginiing of Web 2.0 into motion.

The seeds of Web 2.0 were planted and in a few years entrepreneurs sought to build businesses that not only leveraged data, but created it, shared it and disseminated it freely (to a point). To a large extent, the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was caused by a change in the way Internet users interacted with each other. Personal web pages, which were once popular on complimentary sites such as Geocities became blogs hosted on websites such as Blogger. Blogger provided simple identity management and allowed users to comment on each other’s pages. It focused on what users wanted to do most, communication.

As Internet users began to communicate directly with each other, companies as Ebay and Amazon, reinvented themselves around the idea that the users could be influenced to create valuable web content with very little overhead, making it cost effective. Many Web 2.0 companies are formed around this same model.

Of course, the best example of the Web 2.0 swing is the rise of the social networks: Friendster, MySpace and Facebook. These networks focused solely on making it easy for users to interact with each other and include their friends. Facebook took the lead by offering a platform that allowed developers to create small applications and widgets that could be shared among many users. Just as the users were creating the content, the developers were making Facebook a more appealing experience.

Today, information sharing has become the anticipated model. User/website interaction is key and nearly all social networking services are now somehow interconnected. Users can post Flickr photos to Facebook with their mobile device and get comments returned back to them via Twitter.

This circulated conversation between users and services, along with the parallel trend of user centered design, is the fundamental nature of Web 2.0. What is important is that a sweeping statement can be made about projects that share the common themes of Web 2.0 Web 2.0 is information sharing, interoperability, and user-centered design. Systems that share these themes are moving forward into a future of more available information. Systems that don’t will find it progressively harder to keep up.