Jimmy Wales and Stewart Butterfield/Caterina Fake together with George Bush and Hu Jintao have been named by the editors of the Times Magazine as four of the world's 100 most influential people this year. The latter two are globally renowned. They are the presidents of the U.S.A and of China, respectively and world leaders influential to world politics and development. The former are great inventors and IT practitioners famous in the IT world. They are influential to the latest WWW development and forerunners of the new WWW era, namely Web 2.0.
Jimmy Wales invented wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), which is an on-line encyclopedia completely owned by the Web community. Web users can freely add entries to the system. These entries will be publicly shared; as such even users other than the owners can freely edit any wikipedia entry. Note that wikipedia "is already in the top 100 websites, and many think, it will be in the top ten before long."
Flakr (http://www.flickr.com) is a company founded by Stewart Butterfield/Caterina Fake. The company provides photo sharing services, by which owners can store their photos and make them public; and thereafter other users can freely search and comment on them. These are classical examples of Web 2.0, which is the paradigm of the latest WWW era.
Web 2.0 has become the buzzwords for many IT vendors and solution providers lately. It is very common to observe declaration such as Web 2.0 enabled" Web 2.0 compatible" Web 2.0 compliant" "true Web 2.0 technology" etc. in today's Web products. But what exactly is Web 2.0"? This article attempts to answer this question by first outlining the core competences of Web 2.0 in Section 2; Section 3 presents the characteristics of the technology that supports these competences; the awareness in design due to this type of new technology is described in Section 4; and finally Section 5 gives a few concluding remarks from a cultural prospective.
Core Competences of Web 2.0
Strictly, Web 2.0 is not a technology; instead it is a system behavioral model over the WWW. The core competences of the Web 2.0 paradigm entail:
- Web as a platform - Web 2.0 applications are practically webtop systems meaning that they are designed for the Web. For example Google operates on any Web browser, e.g. Internet Explorer (IE). This in contrast to desktop systems, such as IE itself, which is a browser designed for Microsoft Window.
- Services on the Web and not packaged software - Wikipedia is an on-line encyclopedia service, which is accessible on any Internet browser, e.g. IE. On the other hand, the browser (IE) is a software system. For this reason, wikipedia, and Web 2.0 applications in general, is not confined to any specific devices or platforms.
- Exploitation of the wisdom of crowd - Once an entry is added to wikipedia and flickr, it can be edited and commented by Web users other than the owner. In this way, an entry, i.e. a photo in flickr or an article in wikipedia, that receives popular votes will become the agreeable norm reflecting the opinion of the general population.
- Constantly enriching knowledge base - The power of a Web 2.0 application is the content it owns. This content is transformed to knowledge through techniques such as mining and user-driven tagging. As content accumulates in time when more people use the application, e.g. user entries in wikipedia and shareable photos in flickr, knowledge enriches concurrently leading to enhanced application performance.
- Harnessing collective intelligence - Typical Web 2.0 applications are based on integration of different independent web services components. For example, Andale (http://www.andale.com) makes extensive use of Web services provided by eBay to track sales and prices for providing auction sellers a better idea of popular items and their latest prices. In this way, the Web 2.0 development life cycle is much shorter than conventional Web (i.e. Web 1.0) applications.
Functional Characteristics of Web 2.0 Technology
Technology that supports the Web 2.0's core competences must effectively facilitate interoperability, lightweight programming, dynamic and large scale content management, and fine grain content ownership.
Web 2.0 applications are typically comprised of different Web services. Take protopage (http://www.protopage.com) as an example. Protopage is a Web service, which facilitates users to create their own Web page (strictly speaking protopage) easily by integration of different Web services. Users can selectively include blogs, google search, eBay, Amazon, etc. on their own protopages. Similar to involving a group of people each with different background and working practice in a meeting, their differences could seriously affect the progress. This in fact is the issue of interoperability in the Web 2.0 paradigm. To overcome this predicament, one usually adopts standards in data format, e.g. using XML, and in communication protocols, e.g. Web RPC such as SOAP. In addition, lightweight programming technology is required to efficiently bundle different Web services together to form the Web 2.0 applications.
Another popular lightweight technology is RSS (Really Simple Syndication) , which facilitates Web services in providing "Live" content, e.g. through RSS, on-line news can be dynamically updated and pushed to the users.
In the Web 2.0 era, more and more people participate in constructing content and knowledge, e.g. wikipedia. Web 2.0 application facilitates users to manage their own content, e.g. blog. Nonetheless, irrespective of the size, the owner is fully responsible of his/her own content. Content can change by seconds and grow beyond petra-byte. Creation, deletion, insertion, modification and retrieval of information from a petra-byte database efficiently will be a winning factor of any Web 2.0 application. Also, meta-data management, e.g. "folksonomy" (in contrast to taxonomy) in flickr, is equally crucial if not more.
Design Awareness in Web 2.0 Applications
Design of Web 2.0 applications is mainly based on integration of Web services, e.g. protopage.com. The integration process itself has been made easy by technologies like AJAX. The key of success is innovation in integration - which services to use and how to put them together to achieve the best synergy? The turn-around rate of Web services is inevitably high. Low productivity services are eliminated if they do not perform; and potentially productive ones will be introduced. In this way Web 2.0 application is very versatile. This gives rise to a new challenge to software engineering as the conventional design and development life cycle is too long for Web 2.0 programming.
Practically, integration of Web services involves syndication. Since every party in a syndicate bound to have their own interests, alignment of all interests to maximize mutual benefits is important. Also, in the development phase, trust among co-developers must be established.
Content and knowledge sharing, e.g. in wikipedia, flickr, blogs, etc. is a guiding principle in Web 2.0. For this reason, the re-use barrier in Web 2.0 should be set low. This deviates from the operation guidelines of conventional content management, where all rights should be protected. In Web 2.0, only some rights are protected and they should be determined by the owners, e.g. in flickr, an owner of an album can specify who has the right of access.
The Web is the operating platform of Web 2.0 applications. Access to the Web can be made not only on a PC, by via devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, iPODs also. Thus, Web 2.0 applications should be designed to function over multiple devices.
Web 2.0 is right on our doorsteps. Companies not supporting Web 2.0 will bound to loss their global competitiveness. Yet on the other hand Web 2.0 could not be advanced without information sharing. This is a serious dilemma we are facing in this part of world.
The pace of adoption of the Web 2.0 paradigm in the Chinese communities is relatively slow. This is partly due to the cultural differences between our societal and the Web 2.0 paradigms. In terms of content sharing, Chinese are less open than westerners and most of us are very reluctant to express their opinions publicly worrying that we may be held responsible. In fact, there are numerous examples in China, where Web portals were ceased and the owners arrested for criticizing the government. Chinese is also very unwilling to share knowledge, e.g. tools, solutions, etc., as they regard those as proprietary family or company assets, which should only be inherited by direct relatives. With this mindset, advancement in Web 2.0 will inevitably be sluggish rendering Chinese including Hong Kong uncompetitive in the growing Web business arena.