Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Riding the Waves of “Web 2.0”

---More than a buzzword, but still not easily defined

By Mary Madden and Susannah Fox
Pew Internet Project
October 5, 2006

“Web 2.0” has become a catch-all buzzword that people use to describe a wide range of online activities and applications, some of which the Pew Internet & American Life Project has been tracking for years. As researchers, we instinctively reach for our spreadsheets to see if there is evidence to inform the hype about any online trend. What follows is a short history of the phrase, along with some data to help frame the discussion.

Let’s get a few things clear right off the bat: 1) Web 2.0 does not have anything to do with
Internet2: 2) Web 2.0 is not a new and improved internet network operating on a separate
backbone: and 3) It is OK if you’ve heard the term and nodded in recognition, without having the faintest idea of what it really means.

When the term emerged in 2004 (coined by Dale Dougherty and popularized by O’Reilly Media and MediaLive International),1 it provided a useful, if imperfect, conceptual umbrella under which analysts, marketers and other stakeholders in the tech field could huddle the new generation of internet applications and businesses that were emerging to form the “participatory Web” as we know it today: Think blogs, wikis, social networking, etc..

And while O’Reilly and others have smartly outlined some of the defining characteristics of Web 2.0 applications —utilizing collective intelligence, providing network-enabled interactive services, giving users control over their own data—these traits do not always map neatly on to the technologies held up as examples. Google, which demonstrates many Web 2.0 sensibilities, doesn’t exactly give users governing power over their own data--one couldn’t, for instance, erase search queries from Google’s servers. Users contribute content to many of Google’s applications, but they don’t fully control it.

Instead, the Web 2.0 concept was intended to function as a core “set of principles and practices” that applied to common threads and tendencies observed across many different technologies.2 However, after almost three years of increasingly heavy usage by techies and the press, and, as the writer Paul Boutin notes, after “Newsweek released the word, Kong-like, from its restraining quotes,” critics argue that the term is in danger of being rendered useless unless some boundaries are placed on it.3

Technology writers and analysts have, in fact, devoted countless hours to the meta-work of using Web 2.0 applications (blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) to debate and refine the definition of the term. Still, there has been little consensus about where 1.0 ends and 2.0 begins. For example, would usenet groups, which rely entirely on user-generated content, but are not necessarily accessed through a Web client, be considered 1.0 or 2.0?



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