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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 14 years ago

LEONARD: Web 2.0 is us

The trick to understanding the phenomena of 'Web 2.0' is realizing how amorphous it is, and taming it.

Web 2.0 is us

by: Bob Leonard

The trick to understanding the phenomena of 'Web 2.0' is realizing how amorphous it is, and taming it.

You've heard the term "Web 2.0." Ask a hundred people to define it and you'll get a hundred different answers. It's a slippery term used to describe a gradual but fundamental change in how surfers expect the web to work and how businesses are using the web. It's all about collaboration, interoperability and websites that grow over time. Web 1.0 was static. Web 2.0 is dynamic. Web 1.0 had publishers and readers. Web 2.0's readers are publishers!

The three core attributes of Web 2.0 are user contribution, openness and rich interfaces. Browsing the web is no longer a lonely activity because the voices of others are there to keep us company, from book reviews on Amazon, to recommended connections on LinkedIn, to tags on Flickr photos. Websites are empowering users to become active contributors of content. What was once one-way messaging is now becoming multi-directional conversations.

Although Web 2.0 isn't about technology per se, there are technologies that enable it. Remember those herky-jerky online videos? Would YouTube be so successful today without all the broadband fiber that was installed over the last decade? XML has replaced HTML as the lingua franca of the Web. The coding requirements of HTML acted as a barrier for average people who wanted to post content. XML enables easy posting and transport of any type of content (text, audio, video, etc.) which allows blogs, podcasts and mashups. Mashups result when different types of data are combined in a meaningful way (e.g. combining a road map with real time traffic information). Keep an eye out for new online businesses built around mashups.

People are interested in what other people are interested in. So why not leverage the thoughts, opinions and preferences of website visitors when deciding what to feature on a site? More sites are delivering content based on real user behavior. CNN shows the most read stories on its homepage, Yahoo! lists the most emailed photos, and Dell's IdeaStorm polls customers and prospects to prioritize product enhancements. Giving over some editorial control is now going mainstream.

What happens when you allow users to be active co-authors of your site? Amazon has wiki functionality on product pages because it knows its customers are well-informed and passionate. Encouraging them to contribute product information engages them and simultaneously improves the site experience for others. These collaborative publishing environments are largely self-policing. Errors, extreme viewpoints and obscenities are filtered out by the collective intelligence. Negative comments about products and services are not filtered. So, should businesses avoid blogs and other Web 2.0 tools that foster open discourse? Absolutely not. The information can be valuable market research. The trick is knowing when to take negative comments to heart and make changes, when to ignore unhelpful chatter, and when to publicly refute false or misinformed assertions.

There's another component of user contribution that lies underneath all the others: community. Social networking functionality, born on sites like MySpace and Friendster, is becoming more useful as organizations discover how to use social connections to enhance their overall online experience. For example, on Yahoo! Local, when you're reading restaurant reviews and your friend has written a review, that review appears at the top of the list and is highlighted. How does Yahoo! know who your friend is? You and your friend have willingly given it that information. It's a tradeoff between privacy and the value of the content.

For a multimedia primer on Web 2.0, go to YouTube and search for 'The Machine Is Using Us' video. The video explains how Web 2.0 is creating symbiotic relationships between the internet and its users. A brief excerpt: "Every time we post content on the Web, and identify it with a tag, we are teaching The Machine. The Machine is using us. The Machine is us."

The Machine (aka Web 2.0) is becoming more embedded in our daily lives. The extension of Internet access to the 'third screen' (TV was first, the PC was second, and the cell phone is third) means it's available to us everywhere all the time. Couple that access with the personal preferences potentially being compiled about each of us online and take that to its logical conclusion - companies will be able to offer products and services tailored to the needs and wants of an individual, and will be able to deliver a custom sales pitch directly and exclusively to that individual. That scenario is still out in the future a bit, but Web 2.0 and the technologies that enable it are bringing it closer every day.

Bob Leonard owns and operates Bolen Communications in Sarasota. Bolen provides sales tools and marketing communications for technology companies. Bob has over 20 years experience marketing technology for companies including Digital Equipment Corp., GTE and EMC. Leonard can be reached at 941-366-9704 or at [email protected]


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