Companies with an Internet presence must acknowledge the fact that the web is changing rapidly. The term Web 2.0
was coined to express this fact. Many people agree that the changes are mostly cultural and social in nature, not necessarily technical. Nevertheless, certain technical aspects are included in most definitions. Among the technical characteristics of the Web 2.0 are
- rich internet applications with Ajax,
- user-generated content, the blogosphere with phenomenons such as consumer-generated content, social networking and social marketing, or folksonomies
- mashups - web applications that combine data and services from different sources to form new functionality,
All of these things are related to each other and they affect the way people use the Web in a combined way. Therefore, they affect you and your business. Ajax and the Web 2.0 has until now mostly kept geeks and Internet professionals on their toes, but few businesses have started to adopt the new trends. I believe that we are at a very early stage of something new and that the rate of adoption will increase rapidly over the next few months.
I absolutely think every organization that needs to keep their fingers on the pulse of the public needs a way to mine/monitor consumer generated content. The government included. (Steve Rubel, Marketing Strategist)
So, what should you be doing to be prepared? Let's take a brief look at each one of the technical trends that collectively form the Web 2.0.
Ajax and Rich Internet Applications
Rich Internet applications and widgets can either enhance the user experience of traditional page-oriented web sites, or replace them completely. Users are becoming more accustomed to finding interactive pages and will have less difficulty mastering the shift of metaphors between RIA applications and HTML pages in the future.
This is an opportunity for web designers to enhance existing applications with features such as auto-completion and validation-as-you-type for data entry forms, single-page functionality and configuration wizzards. Interesting and very effective data filtering and search applications can be built with this technology. There are already many existing examples out there.
Here is a word of caution. It is all too easy to go overboard with interactive features. Do not convert existing funtionality unless there is a good reason. Use Yahoo's design pattern library to validate your approach.
User-generated content, in my opinion, is the biggest opportunity that the Web 2.0 brings to you. It all started with users reviewing and commenting on products on sites like amazon.com and epinions.com. Today, blogs and Web 2.0 related services such as social bookmarking sites are forming a sizeable piece of the web. Marketing experts have recognized this trend a while ago and have started to adopt it. Social marketing on the web is becoming an increasing part of the much larger trend of word-of-mouth marketing, which leads firms away from traditional channels such as radio and TV advertising.
Let's look at some early adopters in order to better understand how you can benefit from this trend and use it to generate traffic on your site. The basic recipe seems to be: generate attention within the blogger community, utilitze Web 2.0 infastructure such as blog search sites and social bookmarking sites by providing basic integration with these services, and let the community drive traffic to your site. Recent examples include the Most Blogged on the New York Times web site, or the ability to tag individual articles through an integration with Del.icio.us on the Washington Post's site.
The value of services on the web was determined in the past by the underlying data more than by functionality. I believe, for example, that Googl's map service rose to popularity so quickly not because of the ability to scroll and pan maps dynamically (many people still do not know that this functionality exists), but because of the quality of the maps and the aerial imagery. By combining data that powers different service providers into a single new offering, even more valuable services can be created. This is the idea behind the wave of mashups. The programmableweb.com maintains a reference matrix by pairing existing services with each other and documenting where such a combination has been built.
It is not fully clear if and how this trend will impact business sites. On one hand, there is much uncertainty about the legal grounds on which data from various sources is combined (most of the sites that appear in the programmableweb's matrix are experimental and non-commercial). Google, for instance, is selective about who gets permission to use data from their infrastructure. Some site have been excluded from accessing Google in the past.
On the other hand, there is so much potential for driving traffic and creating revenue with this technology. New business models have yet to emerge to show the way how this can be done most effectively.
Read about my thoughts about how the Web 2.0 affects the business of web consulting at Donner's Daily Dose of Drama.