Sunday, October 07, 2007

What is Web 2.0? | The Path towards Next Generation, Series No.1

(Revised October 19, 2007)

towards next generationThis new series is the follow-up of A View of Web Evolution. In the previous series, we studied a theory of web evolution. In this new series, we apply the web-evolution theory to predict the next generation web. Since this new generation web follows Web 2.0, I adopt the name "Web 3.0" for it. So this series may also be called The Path towards Web 3.0.

To know a path, the first thing we need to discover is its starting point. The starting point toward the next generation web is the current web, which is well known as Web 2.0. So in this first installment we begin with the question: what is Web 2.0?

Various Expressions of Web 2.0

There have been dozens of expressions about what Web 2.0 is. I picked five representative ones that complement to each other. By analyzing these five expressions, I am going to conclude a new definition of Web 2.0 from which our path towards the next generation starts.

Expression from Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly, one of the co-inventors of the term "Web 2.0," had a substantial explanation of Web 2.0. I summarized the 5-page-long explanation into one compact definition.

Web 2.0 is a platform web that enriches user experiences by harnessing collective intelligence, encouraging explicitly declaration of ownership over data, and prompting the conversion from software products to services.

This definition seems complicated. It is, however, not sophisticated. Let's unfold its meaning one clause by another.

1. A platform web is a web of platform. Components in a platform web are portable. Users can freely plug and unplug these portable web components into arbitrary web spaces.
2. Since users can freely plug and unplug their favorite web components into their own web spaces, a platform web enriches user experiences on the Web.

Enriching user experiences is actually a general long-term goal of web evolution. But the typical methods used to enrich user experiences are, however, varied to different evolutionary stages. At the current stage, three typical methods are applied to enable this web of platform. In particular, they are collective intelligence, explicit ownership over web resources, and SaaS (Software as a Service). These methods are the identifiers of Web 2.0.

3. Originally, World Wide Web allows everybody contributes and everybody enjoys contributions from everybody else. A web of platform upgrades this philosophy by making every contribution be not only enjoyable but also freely portable to everybody else. Through this augmentation, the web intelligence becomes collective.
4. When web components are freely portable, the clarification of their ownership becomes a crucial issue. A web of platform requires an explicit mechanism of declaring ownerships over web resources so that they would not be mixed up during the deployment.
5. In particular, traditional software products are not suitable for a web of platform because they are generally not portable. The conversion from software products to services prompts the growth of a platform web.

Expression from Joining Dots

Joining Dots, a research consultancy company at UK, published its vision of Web 2.0. People at Joining Dots had not tried to define Web 2.0 in general but expressed Web 2.0 in their own way.

Web 2.0 is the joining dot of digital natives, internet economics, and the Read/Write Web.

This compact expression contains three clauses.

Web 2.0 connects people; and the connected people are digitalized and become native to the Web. This observation is illuminating. Real humans become part of the Web 2.0. In comparison, real humans were foreigners (not native) to the Web before Web 2.0. Humans visit Web 1.0; but humans live on Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 represents special economical opportunities. The theory of Long Tail is a commercial mutant of collective intelligence. With the participation of "native web people", the execution of Long Tail becomes not only practical but also profitable.

Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. Blogs and wikis (primarily read and write) prompt the transformation of web users from foreigners to natives on the Web. This presentation of Read/Write Web is the precise description of Web-2.0 front end. Comparatively, the presentation of platform web in Tim O'Reilly's expression is the description of Web-2.0 back end.

Expression from Andy Budd
Andy Budd, an internationally renowned user experience designer and web standards expert, has his understanding of Web 2.0.

"Web 2.0 isn't a thing... It's a state of mind."

Sound even more weird this time. What Andy emphasizes is that Web 2.0 is a change of thought. The essence of WWW never changes; what does change regularly how we indeed understand about the Web. Before Web 2.0, we commonly think of the Web as a document delivery system. On Web 2.0, we start to watch the Web as an application platform. This updated view gives the Web a new life.

Although it is short, Andy's expression helps us to understand better about web evolution. Web evolution does not change the essence of WWW, i.e. an interlinked system that prompts human communication. But with continuously upgraded views, WWW may mean differently to us within different time periods. Looking for a revolutionary but pragmatic view is the key to investigate the unknown future of World Wide Web. This discovery is a principle when we foresee Web 3.0.

Expression from Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr, an acclaimed business writer and speaker whose work centers on strategy, innovation, and technology, had his fabulous vision that "Web 2.0 is amoral."

"From the start, the World Wide Web has been a vessel of quasi-religious longing." Nicholas said. He also quoted from Kevin Kelly's marvelous article We Are the Web that "because of the ease of creation and dissemination, online culture is the culture." At the end, Nicholas conclude that Web 2.0 is "what it is, not what we wish it would be."

These expressions are enlightening. As "a vessel of quasi-religious longing," the Web is a religionary existence. The growth of WWW is thus beyond the judgment of right or wrong, mortal or immortal, profitable or nonprofitable, and favorite or unfavorite to individuals. Based on Nicholas's expressions, the emergence and growth of Web 2.0 is due to objective principles that reflect amoral willingness of the general public. The emergence of this Web 2.0 is not due to that we wish there was a Web 2.0. Web 2.0 emerged only because it was the time for it to emerge. Web evolution is independent to humans' will.

Expression from Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe, a well-known evangelist of Web 2.0, SOA, and Enterprise 2.0, had another outstanding explanation on how we got Web 2.0. His expression supplements to Nicholas's expressions.

"Web 2.0 is what happened while we were waiting for the Semantic Web."

In real, no one had expected Web 2.0 before this Web 2.0 suddenly boomed out. What did people originally expect? The answer was Semantic Web. The plot of Semantic Web was drawn several years before the name "Web 2.0" was coined. Many web evangelists had looked for a web that machines could understand. Barely few people had thought of a web in which humans were digitalized. Most of the web evangelists back to the pre-2.0 age and even a few top-tier web professionals at present think of connecting humans on the Web to be a fake question. Hadn't we already connected humans in the original World Wide Web? they asked. They have mistaken "the connect to the Web" and "the connection on the Web."

Dion's observation is revealing. We didn't expect the emergence of Web 2.0 at all from the beginning. The emergence of blogging was a minor improvement on online communication; the spread of web services was a standard advance on leveraging web applications; the rise of tagging was a little bit more than a semantic sugar; and the invention of AJAX was nothing but another one out of one hundred new technologies that had invented. Few people had seen how all these little things might constitute a grand new version of World Wide Web.

When few people were aware, the transition to Web 2.0 had already started. Web 2.0 simply came to the world as an uninvited guest. But this unexpected guest received one of the most magnificent welcome parties ever. This is the astonishing story of Web 2.0.

My Expression of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 tells that the World Wide Web has evolved to its second major stage in its history of evolution. Web 2.0 is a new amoral view of World Wide Web that digitalizes humans participation through collective intelligence, explicit ownership over web resources, and portable web services. At the front-end, Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. At the back-end, Web 2.0 is a web of platform.

This expression summarizes the five Web-2.0 expressions we just reviewed besides my addition of explanations. In the following I explain its clauses one-by-one.

Web 2.0 is a major stage in web evolution. This claim is directly based on the view of web evolution. I do not view "2.0" as a pure marketing term. By contrast, it is a precise declaration that the World Wide Web is coming to its second major stage in history.

Web 2.0 is a new view of World World Web instead of a new World Wide Web. We had not built a new Web. We are still on the only Web. But we do have a new vision to the Web. This clause is an alternative to Andy Budd's expression.

Web 2.0 is an amoral new view. Web 2.0 is not a human-designed plan. This view of Web 2.0 exists independent to individual prejudice. Web 2.0 would be in this current form disregarding the human efforts on either prompting or blocking it. Humans may either accelerate or decelerate its progress. But there is no way to stop or deviate this progress. This clause is a reassessment of expressions from Nicholas Carr and Dion Hinchcliffe.

Humans participate onto Web 2.0 as digitalized natives. Humans at Web 2.0 are connected within the Web instead of to the Web. The transformation of humans from foreigners to natives to the Web is a primal symptom. This clause is based on the expression from Joining Dots.

The immigration process (humans from foreigners to natives to the Web) is only at its beginning on Web 2.0. At Web 2.0, digitalization of humans is still far away from its potential ultimate form. The transformation is at its unnoticed start. Few people have really recognized its revolutionary value. The further web evolution will gradually show how this transformation impacts the world. This clause is a composition of the view of web evolution and the expression from Joining Dots.

This engagement of human participation on Web 2.0 is achieved by prompting collective intelligence, explicit ownership over web resources, and portable web services. Tim O'Reilly's expression explains which characters of humans are digitalized and how they are digitalized on Web 2.0. At the individual level, Web 2.0 digitalizes ownership (i.e. self, the fundamental of individual) and service (i.e. action, the fundamental of being alive). Mashup is an improvement on actions, which we will specifically discuss in later installments. At the community level, Web 2.0 digitalizes aggregation of individual contributions, which is collective intelligence. These three typical achievements constitutes the foundation of a digital society. A social network aggregated with digitalized living selves is the essence of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 have two basic presentations respectively for professional web developers and ordinary web users. To developers, the back-end of Web 2.0 is a web of platform. This presentation tells how developers can contribute to Web 2.0 and manipulate Web-2.0 resources. Typical technology-side advances such as mashup and SaaS are upon this presentation.

To ordinary users, the front-end of Web 2.0 is a Read/Write Web. This presentation tells how ordinary users play with Web 2.0 and business people venture into Web 2.0. Typical non-technology-side advances such as social network and Long Tail are upon this presentation.


Web 2.0 is more than a commercial slogan "to signify that the web was roaring back after the dot com bust!" Although the initiative of this term might be with this sole purpose, it actually ended on a grand picture far beyond a commercial trick. From the various expressions of Web 2.0, we have seen that Web 2.0 is a major stage upgrade in the history of web evolution. After a long time accumulation, the dot-com bubble ultimately triggered the Web 2.0 off; the web evangelists Tim O'Reilly and others happened to be the first ones who caught and named this big moment.

In this first installment, I present a new expression of Web 2.0 by integrating several previous expressions together with my own viewpoints of web evolution. With this new expression, Web 2.0 is a revolutionary new vision of World Wide Web. From this Web 2.0 age, World Wide Web becomes not only a great human conducted project, but also a digital society of real people. Web 2.0 is the starting point of the path towards the fascinating next generation web.

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