What The Heck is Web 2.0?

If you’ve heard people talk about something called Web 2.0 and wondered, what the heck are they talking about, then read on. Welcome to the world of technology and the constant need to invent jargon, code words and acronyms to keep the rest of us just a bit off balance. In the next few paragraphs, we will try to explain in plain English what is meant by Web 2.0 so at your next networking event or cocktail party you’ll be able to join in the conversation.

Web 2.0 is a phrase that was coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, and it refers to a new second generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, RSS feeds and folksonomies (we promise to define this a bit later). All of these new developments have a common thread that emphasizes online collaboration, development and sharing among the user community. There are those that have added to the definition that it is a platform that is obviously based on the Internet.

"Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I've elsewhere called 'harnessing collective intelligence.')". Tim O’Reilly

One interesting philosophy regarding Web 2.0 is that there is strong evidence that the greatest Internet successes happen without any marketing efforts…if a site is being marketed, you could almost say that it couldn’t be web 2.0. Examples of this are sites like: Flickr, E-bay, Google, youtube, myspace, Skype, etc. They exist purely because of viral marketing and not because there was a grand marketing campaign. People tried it, liked it and then they told others. This Internet thing can spread both good and bad word very fast!

Now all of this is very interesting, but how can it help your business, if you are not a pure Internet company? We believe that it is a very important question to answer for most of our clients who are not pure Internet play companies. The answer lies in the utilization of one or more of the Web 2.0 technologies. Let’s explore a couple of them.

Blogging

Blogging is defined as a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in reverse chronological order. A blog can be a very powerful, although somewhat uncontrolled mechanism of “spreading the word”. Today, if you search for a particular term on a search engine you will find that there are a solid number of blog web pages that are returned to you as relevant to your search. This can be outstanding if you’ve just launched a new product, say like the video iPod, and you want the world to know about all of its virtues. Trust me they will learn about them with very little effort on your part. One could create a blog and encourage others to post to it, but this is a double-edged sword. The web and blogs in particular are a very open and true sense of the American way, freedom of speech. We are recommending to our clients to enter the blogging world with caution and some control. We are not recommending allowing others to post to your blog, although this could become another form of communicating with your customers or clients. There are also a new blogging industry that has been created in which people are paid to post blogs about your company or products.

Wikis

A Wiki is a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, typically without the need for registering on the site. Probably the most popular wiki is wikipedia.com. This site has become a virtual, community driven encyclopedia covering just about everything from A-Z. If you’ve coined a new phrase or have a new technology to tout, it would be a good idea to get it up on a wiki. On the other hand, if you’re confused about a particular term or phrase, then a wiki will help you understand what it means. You can sound like an expert in just a few short minutes on a wiki. So what does that mean for a typical business? We believe that Wikis could be a great source for information about a prospect that may not appear on their web site or marketing collateral. You may find a tidbit of new knowledge about something that is going on at their company that has found its way to the web, but not through the corporate marketing machine. You may be able to just sound more knowledgeable when talking to someone within the company after scanning a wiki or two.

Folksonomy

Folksonomy is an Internet-based information retrieval methodology consisting of collaboratively generated, open-ended labels that categorize content such as Web pages, online photographs, and Web links. A folksonomy is most notably contrasted from a taxonomy in that the authors of the labeling system are often the main users (and sometimes originators) of the content to which the labels are applied. The labels are commonly known as tags and the labeling process is called tagging. This methodology could have a huge impact on the business community if deployed in the right way. We are recommending to our clients a variety of ways to take advantage of folksonomy both within and outside their “four walls” of information. We believe that this will prove to be a significant productivity enhancement tool for the business community. We’re all about improving productivity.

RSS feeds

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a form of web syndication used by websites and weblogs to alert the user community of new content on a web page. This started out being a mechanism for news focused sites to get interested users the news stories that they were interested in without the user needing to visit the web site. The news was pushed to the user via RSS and just waited for the user to view the information. We are seeing a variety of strong business usages for this technology, such as, new product introductions, special offers and pricing information.

Podcasts

A podcast is a media file that is distributed by subscription (paid or unpaid) over the Internet using syndication feeds, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. That being said, how the heck can a business take advantage of this technology? You need to understand who your consumer is before you embark on a podcasting path. We worked with a client that was enamored by the idea of podcasting interviews that they conducted for their newsletter. The problem was their audience (consumer) was and still is a few years off from accepting podcasting as a method of communication. That won't always be the case.

So no matter what you do in the future, always keep your customers and prospects top of mind. How do they want to interact with you? What are their expectations? A customer survey is certainly a good way to know what's on their minds.