Web 2.0 powering the information age news
25 May 2009

A host of recent applications grouped under the umbrella term 'Web 2.0' have made the internet a more effective tool than ever, says Ashok Kumar Balagangadharan

Almost without our knowing it, the platform called 'Web 2.0' has quietly revolutionised the way we use our computers and mobile phones. Whether it is social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or Flikr, to which we can upload photos captured on our mobiles instantly, or others devoted to purely professional networking, they all depend on Web 2.0.  So do many other applications, like geo-location services that tell us exactly where we are.

Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web development and design that facilitates communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the internet. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and applications such as social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, etc.

The term Web 2.0 was first used by Eric Knorr, executive editor of InfoWorld, in the December 2003 special issue of the business IT magazine CIO, in an article titled "Fast Forward 2010 - The Fate of IT".  The term Web 2.0 refers not to a specific development but to the cumulative changes in the ways software developers and end-users use the Web. 

When the internet was first conceived, it was meant to be a storehouse of information and data, to be retrieved by users when they required it.  The first hint of change came with the advent of interactive services like Wikipedia and blogging, where users could comment on and edit matter published on the web.

Web 2.0 websites allow users to do more than just retrieve information. They can run software applications entirely through a browser. Users can own the data on a Web 2.0 site and exercise control over it. These sites may have an 'architecture of participation' that encourages users to add value to the application as they use it.

This is in contrast to traditional websites, which limit visitors to viewing and whose content only the site's owner can modify. Web 2.0 sites often feature a rich, user-friendly interface based on Ajax and similar client-side interactivity frameworks, or full client-server application frameworks such as OpenLaszlo, Flex, and the ZK framework.

The chief characteristics of Web 2.0 are: rich user experience, user participation, dynamic content, metadata, web standards and scalability. Further characteristics, such as openness, freedom and collective intelligence by way of user participation, can also be viewed as essential attributes of Web 2.0.

Bart Decrem, a founder and former CEO of Flock, calls Web 2.0 the "participatory Web" and regards Web 1.0 as the 'Web-as-information-source'.

The sometimes complex and continually evolving technology infrastructure of Web 2.0 includes server software, content syndication, messaging protocols, standards-oriented browsers with plugins and extensions, and various client applications. These elements provide Web 2.0 sites with information storage, creation, and dissemination capabilities that go beyond those of Web 1.0.

2.0 the magic figure

Web 2.0 initiatives are being employed within the public sector, giving currency to the term Government 2.0. For instance, Web 2.0 sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have helped in providing a feasible way for citizens to connect with higher government officials, which was earlier nearly impossible. Direct interaction of higher government authorities with citizens is replacing the earlier one-way communication.

Universities are using Web 2.0 in order to reach out and engage with prospective students, according to recent reports. The sites they use include YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Youmeo, Twitter and Flickr; and virtual learning environments such as Moodle enable prospective students to log on and ask questions.

In addition to free social networking websites, schools have contracted with companies that provide many of the same services as MySpace and Facebook, but can integrate with their existing database. Companies such as Harris Connect, iModules, and Publishing Concepts have developed software packages that provide schools with a way to communicate with their alumni and allow alumni to communicate with each other in a secure environment.

The potential of Web 2.0 to bring together the isolated knowledge, tools and people for successful research and development has inspired the term Science 2.0. 

Public diplomacy

The Israeli government is the first to use Web 2.0 for public diplomacy for the Israeli government. The country has started its own official blog, MySpace page, YouTube channel, Facebook page and a political blog. The Foreign ministry also held a microblogging press conference via Twitter about its war with Hamas, with consul David Saranga answering live questions from a worldwide public, using common text-messaging abbreviations. The questions and answers were later posted on IsraelPolitik, the country's official political blog.

Social Work 2.0 represents the use of interactive web technologies in the delivery of social services. The term first appeared in the press in 2008. In March 2009, the New Social Worker Online started a technology blog called Social Work 2.0. Social workers use web 2.0 technologies for clinical practice, community organising and administrative and policy functions. They use chat programs to provide real-time (synchronous) online therapy, or e-therapy. 

Web 2.0 technologies also allow for self-directed treatment through web-based modules. Self-directed treatments, such as Australia's MoodGYM, are based on a CBT model and have demonstrated success in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Self-directed treatments have the potential to provide services to thousands of people at minimal cost.

Community organisers use interactive Web technologies to rally constituents and identify services in traditionally disadvantaged neighbourhoods. For example, the National Association of Social Workers USA provides updates on legislative actions via Twitter. 

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technologies can be used to analyse information about specific geographical regions, such as neighborhoods, zip codes, cities, or counties. Advocacy groups can analyse campaign demographics to improve voter participation on key social services issues. Consumer rights advocates can use GIS to identify where services are distributed in an area in order to better advocate for access to service and improved service delivery. 

Web-based applications and desktops

Ajax has prompted the development of websites that mimic desktop applications, such as word processing, the spreadsheet, and slide-show presentation. Wiki sites replicate many features of PC authoring applications. Still other sites perform collaboration and project management functions. In 2006 Google, Inc acquired one of the best-known sites of this broad class, Writely.

Several browser-based 'operating systems' have emerged, including EyeOS and YouOS. These services function less like a traditional operating system and more as an application platform. They mimic the user experience of desktop operating-systems, offering features and applications similar to a PC, as well as the added ability of being able to run within any modern browser.

Internet applications

Advocates of Web 2.0 may regard syndication of site content as a Web 2.0 feature, involving as it does standardised protocols, which permit end-users to make use of a site's data in another context (such as another website, a browser plugin, or a separate desktop application). Protocols which permit syndication include RSS (Really Simple Syndication - also known as "web syndication"), RDF (as in RSS 1.1), and Atom, all of them XML-based formats. Observers have started to refer to these technologies as "Web feed" as the usability of Web 2.0 evolves and the more user-friendly Feeds icon supplants the RSS icon.

Specialised protocols

Specialised protocols such as FOAF and XFN (both for social networking) extend the functionality of sites or permit end-users to interact without centralised websites.

Web APIs

Machine-based interaction, a common feature of Web 2.0 sites, uses two main approaches to Web APIs, which allow web-based access to data and functions: REST and SOAP.

REST (Representational State Transfer) Web APIs use HTTP alone to interact, with XML (eXtensible Markup Language) or JSONpayloads;

SOAP involves Posting more elaborate XML messages and requests to a server that may contain quite complex, but pre-defined, instructions for the server to follow.

Often servers use proprietary APIs, but standard APIs (for example, for posting to a blog or notifying a blog update) have also come into wide use. Most communications through APIs involve XML or JSON payloads.

General users of the web stand to benefit hugely from the evolution of Web 2.0.  We already have services from Google which enable us to open documents, images, etc online, without needing any extra software.  More and more such applications are going to be available on the web, and users will be able to choose the product that best suits their needs and pay only for what they use if at all.

The word is that the next generation Office suite from Microsoft, Office 2010, is going to be available on the web with all features enabled. ERP suites have also started becoming available on the web, and businesses no longer have to make huge investments to beef up their computer systems in order to put an ERP solution in place.  So, individual and business users alike are going to reap the benefits from the latest developments in Web 2.0. 

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Web 2.0 powering the information age