My readers probably know that I am excited about Web 2.0 and have been a champion for it for many years. Six years ago, I started a company (Nexaweb) providing software for building Enterprise Web 2.0 solutions because I was convinced that Web 1.0 has a lot of limitations and the world would need the next generation.

The goal of Nexaweb was to enable the next-generation Web. Despite the fact that Nexaweb has been quietly deployed at over 5,000 enterprises, I did not hear a single customer inquiry about “Web 2.0”  between 2000 and 2004. Of course I didn't predict the "Ajax wildfire" (see Slashdot) either. For a long time, it was a very “lonely” experience preaching the next generation Web. So you can imaging what it feels like to me during the last 12-18 months now that the term ” Web 2.0” is getting broadly noticed, accepted and adopted.

For anyone who is curious about “Web 2.0”, there are three logical questions to ask:

  1. What is Web 2.0?
  2. What are the new technologies in Web 2.0?
  3. What does it mean to me?

However, after spending the last 12-18 months involved in a lot of “Web 2.0” conversations and reading a lot of “Web 2.0” materials, I am confused. Starting from some people's question about whether Web 2.0 exists, whether/how Web 2.0 stories such as MySpace/Google/YouTube/Flickr are meaningful to enterprises, to the most recent comments from Sir Tim Berners-Lee about Web 2.0 being just  " a piece of jargon" labelling a set of old technologies -I  think the world is a little confused too.

1. What is Web 2.0?

Tim O’Reilly’s original essay “What Is Web 2.0” published around 9/30/2005 is a must read for anybody that wants to understand what web 2.0 is. A few days later Tim provides a “compact” definition of “Web 2.0” on his blog – there are many readers’ comments are worthy of reading. Quite a few additional definitions are worthy of reading, too. For example:

Tim O’Reilly used some powerful examples shown below to illustrate Web 2.0:

Web 1.0 Web 2.0
DoubleClick-->Google AdSense
Ofoto-->Flickr
Akamai-->BitTorrent
mp3.com-->Napster
Britannica Online-->Wikipedia
personal websites-->blogging
evite-->upcoming.org and EVDB
domain name speculation-->search engine optimization
page views-->cost per click
screen scraping-->web services
publishing-->participation
content management systems-->wikis
directories (taxonomy)-->tagging ("folksonomy")
stickiness-->syndication

Looking at the above examples, it is not difficult to see that there is a broad paradigm shift of how people use the Web in a way that is different from a few years ago, and consequently it makes logical sense to define this “new” generation of web usage paradigm under the umbrella of “Web 2.0”.

However, on the other side, ZDNet blogger Russell Shaw argues that  Web 2.0? It doesn't exist! Russell Shaw says that Web 2.0 is a marketing slogan – “until some clever marketers wanting to charge a fortune for you to attend their conferences dreamed this one up. Dreamed Web 2.0 up as a nice-off-the-tongue, easily memorable descriptor for come to our conferences, learn about what's hot.”

Or, as Wikipedia puts it:

Web 2.0 is a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004 to refer to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in new ways — such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies.

Is Web 2.0 just a marketing slogan? Or Is Web 2.0 about a second-generation of Internet-based services such as social networking sites, wikis and blogs?

2. Does Web 2.0 involve new technologies?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee dismissed web 2.0 “a piece of jargon“labeling a set of old technology during his recent interview with IBM DeveloperWorks: “And in fact, you know, this Web 2.0, quote, it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0. It means using the document object model, it means for HTML and SVG and so on, it's using HTTP, so it's building stuff using the Web standards, plus Java script of course.”

In summary, Tim Berners-Lee seems to be dismissing Web 2.0 largely because Web 2.0 does not involve any new technology. The dismissal from the inventor of the Web caused uproar in the blogger community. Various community reactions can be read here “Tim Berners-Lee Comes Under Fire: Is It Time He Let Go of "Web 1.0"?

Dion HinchCliffe acknowledges in his postAll We Got Was Web 1.0, When Tim Berners-Lee Actually Gave Us Web 2.0 that the investor of the Web may be right that web 2.0 involves mostly old technologies, but “Web 2.0 Is Much More About A Change In People and Society Than Technology"

Dave Winer seems to be sharing the same sentiment as Tim Berners-Lee about Web 2.0: “One sure sign of a bubble is the meta-ness of the excitement. How far removed from actual user experience is the euphoria? Is there any technology involved?"

Jeremy Geelan, a leading voice in Web 2.0, argues in his post “The Perfect Storm of Web 2.0 Disruption?” (by the way, very well put. Even if there is no new technology involved, the new ways of how people use the Web today warrant the community excitement around Web 2.0) that technology  is only one of the elements of "Web 2.0" and thus dismissing “web 2.0” on technological grounds misses the point.

We are have heard about Ajax being the main technology behind Web 2.0 – and most people understand Ajax is an acronym coined to describe a set of existing technologies (JavaScript, DHTML, DOM, etc) that have been around for many years since the days of Web 1.0. Even some champions like Jeremy Geelan and Dion HinchCliffe are not arguing that there is new technology in Web 2.0. All these beg the question:

Is there any new technology in Web 2.0?

3. Is Web 2.0 meaningful to enterprises?

My fellow blogger Jeff Schneider described some enterprise folks’ reactions to web 2.0 very well in his blog:

Screw Web 2.0.
Seriously, I have no need for Web 2.0 as it is being defined.
What just occurred to me is Web 2.0, as the world defines it, bores the living hell out of me. It's simple - I don't work for a consumer company like Amazon, Google or Yahoo - and as I look across my clients most of them don't need Web 2.0 functionality (as people are defining it).

Wah! Well done, Jeff.

It is true that it is hard for enterprise environments to figure out why Web 2.0 is related to them at all. The examples that Tim O’Reilly gave: Google AdSense, Flickr, BitTorrent, Napster, Wikipedia, etc. are all consumer web sites. The two defining principals of Web 2.0 as described by Tim O’Reilly and many other Web 2.0 pundits: “Architecture of Participation” and “the network effect” (such as social networking) do not resonate with enterprise environments either. Yes, sharp CIOs may employ blogs or wikis to enhance communications within employees, partners, and customers, but none of which can be easily linked to the bread and butter of enterprise IT operations: ERP, CRM, HR, finance, supply chain, integration, etc.

So…Is Web 2.0 meaningful to enterprise environments at all?

Web 2.0: the State of Confusion?

In my next post, I’ll try to clarify these confusions. In summary, I believe:
  1. What Is Web 2.0?
    The current prevalent ways of Web 2.0 definition are not wrong, but can be easily misleading. They can be misleading because:
    1. They place too much emphasis on issues related to consumer websites and lack of enough enterprise consideration;
    2. They naturally lead to the conclusion that Web 2.0 does not involve new technologies.
  2. Any new technology associated with Web 2.0?
    Contrary to the common belief, Web 2.0 does involve significant new technologies. I am going to cite something that I wrote many years ago about the “flaws” of the Web to show the technical issues of Web 1.0:
    1. The “click and page refresh” user interaction model.
    2. Lack of two-way communications support
    3. Lack of messaging reliability support
    4. Lack of support for rich user interface
    5. Lack of consideration for mobile devices
    6. Lack of support for offline computing

    Web 2.0 is about newer technologies that address these problems. In fact, there are significant technology architecture differences between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0. I’ll go into details in the next post.

  3. Is Web 2.0 meaningful to enterprises?
    Absolutely. If you jump out of the “consumer-centric” illusion of Web 2.0, you will see how Web 2.0 can fundamentally impact core enterprise IT operations in a way that can only be matched by the shift from mainframe computing to client/server computing.

I’d love to hear what you think. Web 2.0 is an important movement that will significantly benefit both consumers and enterprises. It is worth of our efforts in making it clear to the community. Please drop me a line at cwei at Nexaweb dot com or leave your comments here or at http://www.coachwei.com if you would like to help clarifying and defining Web 2.0.