Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Essay for Web development intensive

Hello there friends,

Below is an essay which I had to write for my web development course:

The topic was: "Define Web 2.0"

Let me know what you think! :-)

There is no clear agreement on the true meaning and definition of what the term Web 2.0 means for the internet and those who use it- this became patently clear in the research phase of this essay. In light of this it is prudent to evaluate the different meanings for the term which have been put forward. This, with the end of looking at the so-called Web 2.0 applications which have changed the way we are using the internet, can then bring us closer to understanding what Web 1.0 was and therefore what Web 2.0 is and ultimately what implications this has for journalists and the news media in general.

The term Web 2.0 was first popularised by Tim O’ Reilly at a conference in which the concept of a new web was brought up in a brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International (Tim O’Reilly: 2005). The context in which this conference took place was the aftermath of the bursting of the “dot-com bubble” an event which O’Reilly calls “a turning point for the web” (Tim O’ Reilly: 2005). O’ Reilly went on to clarify this concept by stating that “the companies that had survived the collapse seemed to have some things in common. Could it be that the dot-com collapse marked some kind of turning point for the web, such that a call to action such as ‘Web 2.0’ might make sense?” Indeed, this notion of a turning point for the web is put forward in several definitions of Web 2.0. Francis Pisani, writing in the winter 2006 edition of the Nieman Report, describes Web 2.0 thus: “Web 2.0 is a catch phrase created after the dot-com crash to capture the dynamic capabilities and vision of the web when many had lost hope in its potential” (Francis Pisani: 2006). Wikipedia, an online participatory encyclopaedia and which arguably embodies what Web 2.0 stands for, goes further in its definition by commenting on the term itself: “Web 2.0 hints at an improved form of the World Wide Web. Technologies such as weblogs, social bookmarking, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds (and other forms of many-to-many publishing), social software, web application programming interfaces (APIs), and online web services such as eBay and Gmail provide a significant enhancement over read-only websites.” The debate around the definition of the term Web 2.0 and its relevance has been centred on these aforementioned so-called new “technologies”, with some detractors to the use of the term Web 2.0 pointing out that these technologies were, in fact, not new at all but very much part of the “old” World Wide Web.

One notable detractor to the concept of Web 2.0 is Tim Berners-Lee who is widely credited with having invented the World Wide Web as we know it today (Gavin Clark: 2006). In an article for The Register ( by Gavin Clark, Berners-Lee is quoted from an interview he did for an IBM developerWorks pod cast as saying that the term Web 2.0 is “useless jargon nobody can explain and a set of technology that tries to achieve exactly the same thing as ‘Web 1.0’” (Gavin Clark:2005). This after the pod cast interviewer had, according to Clark (2005), “categorized Web 1.0 as connected computers and making information available and Web 2.0 as connecting people and facilitating new kinds of collaboration.” Berners-Lee bases this argument on the fact that “Web 2.0 relies on technologies that have been around for years” (Clark: 2005). Berners-Lee goes on to state that “Web 2.0 owes its existence to software and development methodologies already established in open source” (Clark: 2005) and these were pioneered during Web 1.0.

The argument put forward by Berners-Lee highlights the important fact that Web 2.0 is built on a base provided by Web 1.0. This is not dismissed by Tim O’Reilly (2005) in his explanatory paper on Web 2.0 and, in fact, O’Reilly goes to great pains to acknowledge this aspect of Web 2.0. When stating that Web 2.0 is a platform, he goes on to point out, “yet that was also a rallying cry of Web 1.0 darling Netscape, which went down in flames after a heated battle with Microsoft” (O’Reilly 2005). O’Reilly then brings Berners-Lee’s argument into his justification for Web 2.0 by stating that Web 1.0 pioneers such as Netscape “provided useful contrasts because later entrants have taken their solution to the same problem even further, understanding something deeper about the nature of the new platform” (O’Reilly: 1995). Thus O’Reilly acknowledges that the problems and challenges faced during Web 1.0 are the same as in Web 2.0 but that the power and use of the Web has shifted thus prompting changing approaches to solving the challenges faced by both the old and new platforms. However, O’Reilly does stress that there are marked differences between the way technologies used Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 operated, hence, while on the surface it may appear that Berners-Lee’s argument trumps O’Reilly’s, the similarities in technology used between the two platforms may be strong but the way in which they are implemented is markedly different.

O’Reilly highlights several key aspects which make up Web 2.0 strategies. These are the concepts of: the Web as a platform, the use of user generated tags instead of site driven taxonomy thus creating the concept of folksonomy, the user as a contributor- which ties into the concept of the user being trusted to contribute in a meaningful way, radical decentralization of information and file sharing and an overall richer user experience (O’Reilly: 2005).

In the instance of the Web as a platform, O’Reilly compares Netscape with Google in that Netscape sought to compel users to use their software when browsing the internet this tying the user in and creating loyalty through software updates and so on. This pitted Netscape against Microsoft which sparked the infamous “browser wars” of the ‘90s. Conversely, Google is fully service orientated with no software required for users to be able to benefit thus making it more dynamic than Netscape and able to innovate easier and give the user an enhanced web experience.

Another example of a site which implements Web 2.0 strategies, according to O’Reilly (2005) is O’Reilly (2005) describes Wikipedia as a site which has created a “profound change in the dynamics of content creation”. This is done through allowing the users to generate the content and create, edit and check encyclopaedia entries with minimal moderation from the site itself thus implementing the “radical trust” element of Web 2.0. This concept also ties into, as O’Reilly (2005) puts it, “the wisdom of crowds” where the users effectively moderate themselves and exchange ideas freely. Another aspect of this “collective wisdom” can be seen in the “blogosphere”, the network of weblogs which reach out to bloggers and non-bloggers alike through RSS feeds, which allow users to subscribe to their favourite blogs and search engines alike which can not only search for keywords within the text of a blog but also the tags which the blog author has chosen to associate with each post.

O’Reilly also points out that tagging is also implemented with great success in the sites like Flikr- which deals with hosting photos and He uses Flikr as an example thus explaining that, “tagging allows for the kind of multiple, overlapping associations that the brain itself uses, rather than rigid categories…a Flikr photo of a puppy might be tagged both “puppy” and “cute”- allowing for retrieval along natural axes generated by user activity (O’Reilly”2005). Thus, according to O’Reilly (2005), the lesson which tags teach us about Web 2.0 is that the “network effects from user contributions are key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era.”

But what implications does this have on journalism? Francis Pisani (2006) points out that people are now offered a myriad of views on the world through the World Wide Web and this is beginning to overshadow “what journalists have to offer.” Pisani (2006) expands on this by stating that “tomorrow’s potential readers are using the Web in ways we can hardly imagine, and if we are to remain significant to them, we need to understand how.” Pisani (2006) uses the example of search engines and RSS feeds as a means of bypassing a route which would have been set-up by editors if the information had been consumed in a more traditional context: “search engines direct readers to articles, effectively bypassing editors’ guidance and, with RSS and aggregators, users grab what they want from sources they fancy and organize them in personal spaces.” The participation of users in making and reporting the news, generally referred to as citizen journalism, is also dealt with by Pisani. Pisani (2006) espouses that, in light of the changing ways users of the World Wide Web are interacting with what is there, “a new news ecosystem has to evolve, adapted to the multifaceted participation of people who not long ago were called an audience.” Pisani (2006) goes onto state that, “although citizen journalism is still looking for viable formulas, it is clear that journalism, as Dan Gilmore likes to say, is now less of a lecture and more of a conversation.” With this being the case it can be said that there is now, more than ever, close scrutiny of the news media and media in general by media consumers. Pisani (2006) comments on this by stating, “journalists will have to learn to practice their trade with the same rigour and demanding values in a much humbler manner.”

To sum up, the term Web 2.0 is clearly still a disputed term with the main argument against it being that it is useless jargon as the technologies supposedly used by Web 2.0 are not new and existed in Web 1.0. However, this may be true but the way those technologies have been implemented and how users and interacting with each other on the World Wide Web has, without a doubt, become just as important as using it as an information resource. The very information itself has become interactive with websites like Wikipedia allowing users to create and edit encyclopaedia entries. It is therefore not so much about whether or not the technology is new but rather how it is used. This has major implications for mainstream journalism as users are now able to use the World Wide Web as a platform to share their ideas and views without going through a gate-keeper of some kind. This is also true of how news websites are viewed with a myriad of ways users can navigate to them without even needing to go through the site’s homepage.


Clark, Gavin. 2006. “Berners-Lee calls for Web 2.0 calm.” The Register. (Accessed 5 October 2007).

O’Reilly, Tim. 2005. “What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Model for the Next Generation.” O’ (Accessed 5 October 2007).

Pisani, Francis. 2006. “Journalism and Web 2.0.” Nieman Report: Winter Issue. (Accessed 5 October 2007). Keyword: “Web 2.0”. (Accessed 5 October 2007).

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