Monday, August 18, 2008

The Age of Google (3): Web 2.0

(The previous installment: open sesame)

Google is a legendary company of Web search. However, it would not have been a legend if there were no Web 2.0. On the other hand, Web 2.0 might not have been so phenomenal if there were no Google. Google and Web 2.0 are twins. If we watch closer to the rise of Google, its path synchronizes with the rise of Web 2.0.

Because of Google, Web 2.0 rapidly catches the mainstream attention. Because of Web 2.0, Google grows to its full potential.

Web 2.0

Even until now, Web 2.0 is still a debating issue. Despite of its great success at the industrial realm, many academic researchers (even a few high profile industrial leaders) still doubt of its real value. They still think Web 2.0 to be just a hype, a buzzword, an illusion, or solely a marketing term.

I had previously a thoughtful post about what Web 2.0 is. In the post, I analyzed varied discussion of Web 2.0 and concluded that Web 2.0 actually tells World Wide Web to being at the second major stage of its evolution. At this new stage, the Web digitalizes humans participation through collective intelligence, explicit ownership declaration 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 platforms.

From all these analysis, we can tell that Web 2.0 has rich and concrete intent and it is measurable. Therefore, it is definitely not just a hype of business cycle or an illusion. Web 2.0 is an inevitable stage of Web evolution that we cannot bypass.

From AJAX to GMail

At the previous installment, we mentioned one side of Google's success---PageRank. As I said, PageRank started the legendary journey of Google. But it is another factor that finally pushed the company into the list of legends. This second factor is AJAX, the core technology of Web 2.0.

AJAX solves the problem of asynchronously processing varied resources in one Web page. In short, AJAX eliminates the processing overhead of enforced synchronizing of multiple resources in the same page. Because of AJAX, the Web has been decomposed from pages as resource units to portions of pages as resource units. Informally, we may also say that AJAX makes the Web evolve from a web of URLs to a web of URIs. Such an evolution makes the Web be very different from before.

Although GMail is not the first AJAX application, it is the first influential AJAX application at the global scale that demonstrates the power of AJAX. By the success of GMail, AJAX caught the mainstream attention. With the wide adoption of AJAX, the rise of Web 2.0 became unstoppable.

GMail is a phenomenal product. The use of AJAX makes GMail be an interactive platform. Unlike the traditional email services such as Hotmail or Yahoo Mail (the versions before GMail), GMail let users feel that they are performing a regular desktop functions since the page refreshing issue has been nearly eliminated. Therefore, the first time in history two email users feel that they are using a shared desktop and interactively messaging each other. GMail becomes a platform for emails users more than simply an email service. This fundamental upgrade to the intent of email makes GMail immediately be popular among the Web users, let it alone the significant larger storage spaces GMail promised for its users.

The success of GMail brings tremendous number of volunteered advocates of Google. Since GMail, "powered by Google" starts to be a trademark of novelty, modern style, and cutting edge.

By this sense, we would rather say that it is GMail instead of Google search that indeed makes Google be outstanding out of all the others. The new Web search competitors may clone every detail of Google search. However, none of the competitors would be able to clone the success of GMail because it is an issue of timing. Once we have passed the timing of the Web 2.0 initiative, it would not come back again.

Extra Words

Google's legend began with the timely objective, link-oriented Web search methodology. But it was the adoption of AJAX that finally titled Google the forerunner of Web 2.0.

After GMail, Google continuously produces new Web-2.0 products such as Google Map, Google Talk, and, more importantly, AdSense and AdWords. Moreover, by quickly acquiring a few leading Web-2.0 services such as Blogger and YouTube and merging them into the Google framework, Google enhances its leading position about Web-2.0 resource production. Therefore, Google and Web 2.0 have become nearly indistinguishable. As long as Web 2.0 continues, no other companies might have the chance to pull Google down from the seat.

For new startup companies that are ambitious to be the next legend after Google, there are many lessons they can learn from Google's story of success. No matter whatsoever, however, there is one critical point any new startup must learn, i.e., the timing of Web evolution! Though Google is the king of Web 2.0, it would unlikely be the king again at the next stage of Web evolution. Companies that truly understand Web evolution and are capable of recognizing the timing of a new stage would have a much better chance of being a new legend after Google.

The success, however, does not matter the particular business done by the companies. Google is indeed first of all a Web-2.0 resource producer and then secondarily a Web search service provider. AdSense and AdWords are typical examples. Through Web 2.0, Google utilizes Web search. It is not, however, that through Web search Google utilizes Web 2.0. The key here is Web 2.0. Through Web 2.0, a company can utilizes many things other than Web search.

On the other hand, for the ones that still deny to honor Web 2.0 even until now, they would not have a chance of being the next legend because Web evolution would only award to the ones who respect it, just as Google has done.

Do all of these declare that Google is unbeatable? In the next installment, I will share the weaknesses and limit of Google. Google is certainly far away from truly invincible. But we must first know the art of combat.

(Next installment: the future)

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