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Web 2.0: The Newbies Guide to Social Media

Web 2.0 Up Close and Personal

Imagine a popularity contest that stretches across the globe, socializing without boundaries, unlimited treasure troves of information, and a place where every second – unlikely individuals become kings and queens of their own domains. Thanks to the wave of Web 2.0 capabilities, the Internet has evolved into an increasingly massive, technological masterpiece – a work of art created by millions of people hailing from all walks of life. Today, the effects are seen in everyday interactions on the Web, from placing a bid on eBay to downloading a podcast from iTunes.

So, What is Web 2.0, Anyway?

To many, ‘Web 2.0’ sounds like a revamped World Wide Web, but is actually a term used to describe the changing trends associated with web design and the way information is provided and shared amongst users across the Internet. Web 2.0 deals with how the public discovers new ways to communicate and express their creativity. Leading the way are web-based communities that take social networking and the distribution of information to new heights.

After the dot-com collapse dust had settled, companies able to survive the aftermath began to brainstorm the future of the Internet. The importance of the Web shined brighter than before with fresh applications on the rise and new sites emerging at every turn. In the center of it all was founder of O’Reilly Media and supporter of free software and open source movements, Tim O’Reilly. Widely credited for coming up with the term ‘Web 2.0’ in 2003, it was O’Reilly and his colleagues that began to flesh out the concept of a new era during the first conference held in Web 2.0’s honor in 2004. “Web 2.0 is the understanding that the network is the platform,” says O’Reilly. “The cardinal rule [for Web 2.0] is this one – users add value.”

O’Reilly also created a hierarchy to describe the companies and products that represented the core of Web 2.0:

  • O’Reilly views Level-3 applications as the best examples of Web 2.0 because only exists on the Internet – thriving off of human connections and networking that the World Wide Web makes possible. This includes Craigslist, Wikipedia, Skype, AdSense, and eBay.
  • A Level-2 application could prosper offline, but greatly benefits from an online presence, such as the shared photo databases of Flickr.
  • Level-1 applications operate offline, but offer the public extra features online, such as the music storing capabilities of iTunes.
  • With Level-0 applications (like MapQuest or Google Maps), decent results are delivered both offline and online.

Since the birth of “Web 2.0,” the term has lost a bit of its luster and is sometimes dismissed as nothing more than an overused buzzword. However, there are many interesting nooks and crannies to explore when it comes to the ins and outs of this powerful tool of communication.

The Difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

To better understand Web 2.0, one must acknowledge the differences of Internet use now when compared to before (Web 1.0). For starters, Netscape became a thing of the past, while platforms like Yahoo and Google pushed the limits of searching the Web and providing content.

Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia that any Tom, Dick, and Harry can edit, replaced Britannica Online as the first place people thought of when searching for subject-specific information. The notion was quite radical when looking back, as the entire concept is built upon trusting users to post accurate content.

Remember the days when page views meant something completely different? In this day and age, cost-per-click turns website visitors into profit, as Google AdSense replaced (and later bought out in March 2008) the 90’s ad services pioneer DoubleClick. In the past, to publish your own personal website on the Internet was a feat in itself, but today – participation is encouraged with blogging becoming a source of the ultimate communication give-and-take. Today, Web 2.0 uses ‘tags’ to sort information and help users find what they’re looking for, putting less emphasis on the directories of yore.

The public now shares everything, from snapshots of vacations in Hawaii (shifting from Ofoto – a Kodak-related venture to Flickr – the supreme rush in photo sharing), funny home videos on You Tube, and the latest music on peer-to-peer sites, such as Limewire – a program that has been downloaded from CNET Download.com nearly 157,000,000 times since August of 2008.

In regards to the ‘new’ Internet, there are distinguishing features that help pinpoint a Web 2.0 site, which includes profile pages (that reveal the age, sex, and location of users); the ability to forge user connections (such as linking to “friends,” becoming a member of a “group” or subscribing to site updates); Flash videos; the ability to rate other users’ content; and offering the opportunity to post photos, blogs, videos, and comments – all of which were not possible in Web 1.0.

Top 6 Contributors for Web 2.0

We’ve talked about Tim O’Reilly and how he has influenced the World Wide Web – now here are a few more people (in no particular order) who have pushed their glasses up on their noses, clicked a few keys and really made a difference online.

  1. Kevin Rose (Digg.com) – Among other things, Kevin Rose is the founder of the social bookmarking site, Digg. This site experienced (and still experiences) wild popularity due to the user-control factor which allows websites to be ranked based on the public’s liking of them. Interestingly enough, Rose appeared on the cover of Businessweek magazine with a cheesy thumbs up and the caption, ‘How This Kid Made $60 Million in 18 Months.’ He wasn’t very happy with the picture or the description, which called him a ‘leader of the new brat pack of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.’ Still, his contributions to the World Wide Web are more than noteworthy.
  2. Biz Stone (Twitter.com) – Along with being the co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone has helped develop Xanga, Blogger, Odeo and Obvious. With an innovative mind, Biz dropped out of an art scholarship so he could design book covers in Boston! In the 14 years since then, he has had his hand in many different Web 2.0 pots.
  3. Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook.com) – While attending school at Harvard, Mark developed and launched the social networking site Facebook with the intention of allowing only fellow students. Of course, Facebook became public in 2007 and everyone could join. Interestingly enough, Mark also developed and launched Facemash.com – think Hot or Not for Harvard. Four hours after it launched, Mark was charged with breaching computer security, violating the school’s internet privacy and intellectual property policies by Harvard University Administration board. Following the link to Facemash.com brings you to a blank page with three small words at the top – ‘nothing here now.’
  4. Garrett Camp – (StumbleUpon.com) Garrett Camp is the founder of the social media and bookmarking site, StumbleUpon. This site could be the poster child of Web 2.0; it’s an interactive site where users can find websites based on their own preferences, rate those sites and interact with other members through the website.
  5. Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis (Kazaa) – The same duo that gave birth to the file-sharing application Kazaa is responsible for taking Internet-based telephoning and messaging to a new level with Skype – a peer-to-peer telephone network system that eventually became the property of eBay within two years of its 2003 release.

Of course, there are many others who have influenced what we know today as Web 2.0, but these few have played a major role in creating the web we know and love.

The Nuts and Bolts of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 concentrates on providing a platform for individuals to co-mingle in the most innovative ways. The social impact has created extraordinary possibilities that has reaped millions upon millions of dollars, and has attracted Internet users of all ages to enter a chatroom, hold an IM conference, or share their life history with the rest of the world.

The ‘community’ aspect of Web 2.0 sites appears in an array of interesting circles. For example, WikiCrimes provides a setting that allows users to report local crimes by placing multi-colored pins on specialized GoogleMaps to signify robberies, thefts, assaults, etc.

To become further acquainted with various opportunities offered through Web 2.0, consider the following possibilities:

  • Blogging – Early news-based blogs included the Drudge Report – founded by Matt Drudge in 1994 – which consisted of uncomplicated websites that owners manually updated. The popularity of blogs soon increased during the late 1990s when the first hosted blog tools emerged. OpenDiary led the way, creating the first time that readers could leave comments on blogs. In the coming years, it didn’t take long for blogging to become an influential force, as seen in the political arena – powerful enough to play a role in the forced resignation of Senator Trent Lott in 2002.
  • Communications – Web 2.0 was instrumental in advancing successful two-way communication, which forced traditional telephone companies to hold their breath, as Internet users now indulged in voicemail, cell phone links, bulk transfer of information, and VOIP. Webmail, such as Google Mail (GMail), eliminated the need to delete archived emails by offering free storage. File-transfer applications became popular, such as Sendspace (a favorite amongst major recording artists who distributed free music, including Grammy Award-winning artists).
  • Design – Since websites have become increasingly valuable to company and business ventures, the need to stand out against the competition has fueled the interest and number of design-related sites and blogs. Anything from swapping professional button designs to downloading free website templates to browsing an online catalog of revolutionary logos is now available with the help of Web 2.0.
  • e-Commerce – Web 2.0 has also changed the way we do business, as buyers and sellers will most certainly agree on the impact of Internet-based currency, such as PayPal and sites like eBay. Contrary to popular belief, the site was not created to trade PEZ dispensers. Actually, the first item purportedly sold on the infamous online auction site was broken – a laser pointer for $14.83. Today, the site is known for bringing the oddest buyers and sellers together, from the purchase of a single corn flake for a little over $2 to the original Hollywood sign for $450,400.
  • Social Networking – One of the most talked-about features regarding Web 2.0 is the thrill of making friends, finding the love of one’s life, and business networking all the way to the top. The social networking scene of Web 2.0 reunites long-lost classmates, highlights unfound musical talent, and connects people located thousands of miles away from one another. With unforgettable milestones (like MySpace – with more than 120 million registered accounts), Friendster, and Facebook – a friendly face is only a click away.

Why Are These Sites, Blogs and Other Platforms So Attractive to the Masses?

In the old days of the internet, things were fairly cold. People could learn, read, gather information and more – but couldn’t really interact. With Web 2.0, there is a definite sense of community. Mothers can interact with other mothers across the globe and get support, advice and feedback. Photographers can display their works on Flickr and gain notoriety, respect and suggestions. It is possible to develop bonds with people and interact on these different platforms with other like-minded individuals – just like joining a support group or club.

Web 2.0’s Past, Present and Future Role

Web 2.0 has helped the likes of the average Internet surfer, corporate businesses, the lonely genius, and struggling college students succeed in today’s society. As individuals are able to better collaborate with one another, personal and business relationships are cultivated with enhanced means of communication. The social networking aspect of Web 2.0 is responsible for increasing productivity; locating higher quality, relevant information at a quicker pace; and providing the ability to keep up with the latest developments in research and technology.

The gaps in communication that once existed with Web 1.0 are no longer a point of discussion. Businesses are able to effectively advertise and build credibility through Web 2.0 applications while sales and profits rise. For instance, YouTube has become one of the most popular ways to advertise. Companies count on their videos becoming ‘viral,’ which means it is passed around, recommended, sent to friends and more until everyone and their mother has seen it. One example of this is the Dove ‘evolution’ video which shows how a woman goes from fairly plain looking to super-model material with the use of a pound or so of make-up and a computer. Of course, it is an advertisement for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and it worked wonders with over 7 million views.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

However, despite all of the wondrous progress of the ‘new’ Internet, Web 2.0 comes with a price and its’ fair share of disadvantages. Whether it’s the sharing of images, original art work, blog posts, articles, or private thoughts – the success of others is bound to attract a few rotten apples that threaten to spoil the bunch.

Issues of plagiarism, authorship, ethics, and copyright have emerged over the years. To make matters worse, various Web 2.0 sites have become vulnerable to the attack of hackers that enjoy taking over popular sites for their own use. To boot, they’ve have found inventive ways of profiting from the hard work of others – often times at the expense of an unsuspecting blogger or website owner.

The issue of censorship and other judicial-related brick walls has surfaced as a result of Web 2.0 blogs and sites, such as MySpace. For example, the authorities have followed the comments and posts of MySpace users to investigate acts of sexual assault, locate the whereabouts of runaways and kidnapping victims, as well as track gang-related activity. There are many different tragic cases, including one where a 13 year old girl named Megan committed suicide after being harassed by a MySpace boyfriend and a few others from school. Unfortunately it turned out that her ‘boyfriend’ (whom she had never met in person) was the actually mother of another young girl that Megan had been having problems with.

With the more than 60 million estimated active blogs around the world, bloggers have also come under fire as to what is deemed acceptable to share on their digital diaries. In 2005, Traffic Power, a search engine optimization company associated with black hat techniques, sued a blogger for defamation and the publication of trade secrets. The following year, a former congressional aide was fired for blogging about her sex life, but the “The Washingtonian” fought back and later wrote a novel based upon her experience.


While Web 2.0 has disadvantages – much like any other topic in the world, the advantages are massive and it is growing daily. Critics claim the social networking wave will phase out much like other fads, however others think the ‘community’ ideas and platforms are here to stay. Considering the progress the World Wide Web has made since it’s inception, one thing is for sure – it will be very interesting to see what the next 10, even the next 5 years bring us in the way of the web.

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  1. Niko says:

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