Oh, there’s still so much learn about the Internet. Did you know the web had ‘editions’ and we’re now on ‘2.0’? Yes, you blinked. Web 1.0 (coined retroactively after 2.0 became the ‘it’ term among the technical elite) is long-gone and Web 2.0 has taken its place as the ‘second-generation’ Internet, heralding an age of new, fraternal technologies and a social and cultural shift towards a more web-centric universe.

Web 2.0, in a nutshell

The World Wide Web has evolved from a ‘silo-based’ content storage solution (think isolated, static HTML websites and simple searches) into a decentralized, deep-linking, information and computing platform that harnesses collective intelligence, and facilitates interconnectivity and information sharing (think blogs, RSS, tagging, aggregate readers and online collaboration tools). While this second phase of the Web has become known as Web 2.0, the term remains a point of contention amongst technologists – with roughly 10 million Google citations, Web 2.0 has certainly made its mark in the technology lexicon.

Experts are calling 2.0 ”thin client computing”, positioning it as a computing platform serving applications to end users. Everything is stored on the Internet, and users have instant access to whatever they need — be it web-based desktop-like applications, or applications that don’t require a browser but can be accessed simply by downloading them from the net. And, everything relies on large networks of interconnected people with commonalities.

Socially, 2.0 makes us a web-centric culture. Music, video, telephone, email, chat, research, shopping, information sharing — it’s all being done online. And 2.0 technologies that promote decentralization and sharing, and cross-compatibility, such as image management tools and podcasting in combination with blogs and online communities, are making it easy for the average individual to harness the Internet to support and enhance his/her lifestyle.

On the flip-side, 2.0 is being dubbed a ‘people-centric’ web. Finally, the power is square in the hands of the user. We are in the driver’s seat, demanding that the Internet revolve around our lives and our interactions with each other — regardless of our geographic divisions.

Need examples? Here’s a table that illustrates what 2.0 looks like in relation to the World Wide Web we are so thoroughly acquainted with:


The above has been excerpted and revised from:

And here’s a graphical representation of Web 2.0 and its relation to our technical, business and social communities:

What Web 2.0 Means for Business

So, now we know what Web 2.0 is. But what does it do for us from a business perspective? Primarily, two things: 1. Web 2.0’s people-centric paradigm is causing a major shift within the business community to a more customer-focused business model, and 2. 2.0 technologies are making it possible for SMEs to readily adapt, and as a result, successfully compete with their larger counterparts both on and offline. Here’s how:

2.0 Puts the Consumer in the Driver’s Seat

2.0’s people-centric web is forcing business to view the customer as the business driver. This is not to say that customers were overlooked in the past, just that recently they’ve been getting much more attention. Think about advertising online, for example. The interactive nature of the web gives the user the power – to click or not to click. And, how to get the user to click has become the million dollar question.

It’s no wonder that the newest trend in business is ‘personalization’ – letting the customer decide what a business will produce and sell. We’re seeing this everywhere. For example, I was eating a bag of potato chips the other day and on the back of the bag was the question: “What’s your dream flavor? We want to know. Submit your ideas at www…”

Young, hip companies operating online are at the forefront of this trend. T-shirt companies are a good example here. Organizations like www.threadless.com have built their businesses around personalization and 2.0 technologies that facilitate this model. In the case of Threadless, customers can design their own t-shirt, other site visitors can discuss and vote on their design, and then, if votes are high enough, the company will print it and sell it to a captive niche market.

And 2.0 technologies are making it easier for all kinds of businesses to use personalization to target consumers. Answer a few questions when you sign up for an email newsletter and you’ll get information targeted specifically to your interests. Personalize your daily news with RSS aggregators which will sift through reams of web-based information and collect only information that you want. Add a blog or forum to your website and encourage visitors to chat about your industry to learn what your customers are looking for in your product/service. And the list goes on.

2.0 Levels the Playing Field

In fact, it’s the smaller business that often targets niche markets (using strategies like personalization) to avoid having to contend with their larger, mass-market cousins. Similarly it’s the global, interactive nature of the new Internet, combined with lower-cost, reusable technologies that are making it possible for SMEs to compete on a level they never have before. Think reduce, reuse and recycle and what that can mean for a SME in a world where robust IT assets have traditionally been cost prohibitive for everyone but Big Business.

Finally, smaller businesses can tap into radically decentralized technology that harnesses our collective intelligence to create platforms which make it easy to reuse existing IT assets, rather than forcing businesses to spend precious time and money reinventing the wheel. 2.0’s Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is “an architectural style for building software applications that use services available in a network such as the web”. SOA produces technologies that allow cost-effective integration of enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), and other systems used by business. This makes it easier and cheaper for SMEs to adapt to changing market conditions and remain productive and profitable.

For more information on how SOA can help your business adapt and profit, Service-Oriented Architecture Compass – Business Value, Planning and Enterprise Roadmap (2005) is available online from most major book retailers.

As a result, it seems that in this new world, interconnectivity, distribution of power, sharing and communication are where it’s at. When viewed in this light, the Internet really begins to live up to its name, doesn’t it? Finally, there’s a good reason for calling it the ‘web’.

For further research, here are just a few 2.0 applications you may not have heard of:

Photo Sharing and Management
Flickr: www.flickr.com

Social Bookmarking
del.icio.us: http://del.icio.us

Google Maps: http://maps.google.com
Google Base: http://base.google.com

Project Management and Collaboration
Basecamp: www.basecamphq.com
BackPack: http://backpackit.com
TimeTracker: http://www.formassembly.com/time-tracker/
Ta-Da Lists: www.tadalist.com

Browser-Based Office Suite
Ajax Office: http://ajaxoffice.sourceforge.net

Personal Calendar
Kiko: www.kiko.com

DropCash: www.dropcash.com

Instant Messaging
Meebo: http://meebo.com

Reprint. Originally published in Webnames.ca’s The Server Room