The vaunted “Web 2.0” bunch of internet innovations includes surprisingly little that is new on a technical front, says consultant Stefan Korn. Most of it can be achieved in standard HTML. The new style represents, rather, an attitudinal change, towards a more two-way approach to the web.
In some ways, he says, it marks a return to earlier internet values, where the user was typically a creator and participant, not a mere consumer of packaged “content”.
On the practical level, Web 2.0 dovetails with the trend towards service-oriented architecture and the use of small special-purpose software modules rather than bloated all-purpose suites with advanced functionality paid for but hardly ever used.
Korn is with e-business consultancy Igniter and has made a particular study of this supposed new trend in the web.
He quotes Paul Graham, essayist and web applications pioneer: “Web 2.0 means using the web the way it’s meant to be used. The ‘trends’ we’re seeing now are simply the inherent nature of the web emerging from under the broken models that got imposed on it during the [dot.com] bubble.”
The most talked-about manifestations of Web 2.0 are blogs, wikis and syndicated (RSS) information feeds, Korn told a meeting of the Computer Society late last month.
These exemplify the participatory approach; a Wikipedia entry or a business wiki discussion represents the accumulated input of a number of people, a material expression of the “wisdom of the crowd” that can be as much as if not more than the sum of the individual knowledge and intellectual endeavour that went into it. A blog, similarly, refers to others’ input and builds on it.
Public wikis have led to an interesting debate over sources for trusted information and the expression of bias, says Korn. At its best, a wiki article will come to express consensus.
“Blogging functionality can be implemented with standard HTML,” Korn notes; the permalink — an on-demand link to a piece of information no longer stored visibly on the site — is the only “new” piece of technology.
Making money out of the internet also assumes some new paradigms, with banner ads yielding to targeted advertising, based on the user’s inquiry, and a usage right to software applications provided online replacing some software purchases. The Basecamp project-control service combines this software-as-a-service (SaaS) thinking (a byway of SOA) with online collaboration among the parties to the planning and execution of a project.
Such applications typically handle a narrow range of needs and users may be able to tailor what capabilities of the software they buy from day to day.
On-line provision facilitates incremental development; a product can be continuously enhanced and the user always accesses the latest version. A product may initially be based on modules of reused code, possibly developed by someone else and these can be subsequently replaced with more original, improved and better fitting code. Shoulder-standing suggests some re-thinking of intellectual property protection, says Korn; what lawyer Lawrence Lessig calls a “some rights reserved” mechanism, similar to open-source thinking.
Patterns of day-by-day use suggest a need for a micropayment mechanism. Korn suggests PayPal already provides a model for this and may benefit significantly from the rise of “Web 2.0” thinking.