What is Web 2.0?

My view of Web 2.0 for the E-learning 1.0 vs. Elearning 2.0 Panel Session as part of the E-learning Networks Project Online Event - Tapping into Social Networking for E-learning.


Web 2.0 is a term that means many things to many people. Many even dispute it's validity. Some see it as nothing more than a buzzword surrounded by a lot of hype.

But it's still a useful term to describe certain changes that are occuring online and even in the world at large.

Defining Web 2.0

There is no consensus on what Web 2.0 is. There are many definitions.

Ironically this is very typically Web 2.0 - there is no single, clear, authorative definition of Web 2.0, nor will there ever be. Instead there is a multiplicity of subjective definitions which co-exist and collaboratively define what Web 2.0 is. And, like the tools of Web 2.0 itself, the definition will constantly evolve.

Kathy Sierra of the Creating Passionate Users blog also points out in her post - The best thing about Web 2.0 - that the openness of the term Web 2.0 is a good thing as it stimulates thought and discussion.

Differing Perspectives

Differing views on what Web 2.0 is often result from whether they are coming from the perspective of:
  • The actual services and tools described as Web 2.0 such as blogs wikis, podcasts etc. and the underlying technologies - Ajax, RSS, APIs.

  • Business - shifting business models, changing relationships between businesses and clients, and new business opportunities (indicated by a lot of talk about start-ups, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs). The 'Post-Dot.com' era.

  • The sociological impact - a different philosophy, a paradigm shift, a changing mindset.

Definitions of Web 2.0

Notwithstanding the difficulties defining Web 2.0, here are two definitions...

A definition of Web 2.0 focusing on the tools:
  • A second generation of web-based applications and services that make it easy to create, distribute and share content, often collaboratively, while helping users find and connect with like-minded people and form social networks based on common interests.

A definition focusing on the shift in philosophy and attitude and some of the consequences:
  • Web 2.0 is about greater communication, collaboration, sharing, building of communities and networks, collective intelligence and action, disintermedition and the decentralisation of power.

Nothing New, but Everything is New

In a sense Web 2.0 is nothing new, but the fulfillment of Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of the Read/Write web (after a detour into high-end, read-only websites and the dot.com era and subsequent bust). But it has become a lot more than being able to edit web pages on the fly, which Tim Berners-Lee's original browser could do.

Characteristics of Web 2.0 Services

  • From a one-way broadcasting and publishing medium where content is passively consumed to a platform for participation where content is created.

  • Applications move from the desktop to the web and are offered as web-based services instead of a product. e.g. Webmail, Writerly, online calendars & spreadsheets.

  • Independent of platform and device - services available across multiple platforms and devices - accessed from anywhere at anytime on any OS or device, inc. mobile devices and embedded devices.

  • From static to dynamic content - static web pages to interactive services, "The Perpetual Beta", RSS feeds. Content always up-to-date.

  • User-generated content - services provide the platform, the users add value by providing the data and content. e.g. Amazon, ebay, Flickr, YouTube, WebJay, Second Life

  • The "Network Effect" - services improve the more people who join - e.g del.icio.us

  • Users are in control of their own content/data - can add and modify at their convenience. They also have control over copyright (with some alarming exceptions - YouTube owns YourStuff).

  • Increased and expected personalisation/customisation of tools and data.

  • "Architecture of participation" - tools encourage creation, collaboration (e.g. wikis, Wikipedia) and sharing (Creative Commons).

  • Harness collective intelligence/wisdom of the masses - e.g. Wikipedia, Amazon.com & eBay, digg

  • From "walled gardens" to open access of data - APIs.

  • Encouragement of interoperability - services loosely coupled - using RSS, syndication, APIs - leading to mashups which combine data from two or more sources to create a new content or web application e.g. Chicago Crime map - http://chicagocrime.org/

  • Shift from centralised services and content (e.g. portals - Yahoo!) to distributed services ("Small pieces loosely joined") and content (microcontent).

  • User-based organisation - from taxonomy to folksonomy (via tagging) e.g. flickr, del.icio.us

  • Leveraging the power of the "Long Tail" - Niche/sliver/micro marketing and publishing


  • Easy content creation, sharing, publishing and distribution encourages creativity, empowers individuals and groups by giving them a voice and lowers the barriers of participation & levels the playing field.

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) nature of the tools allow 'disintermediation' - cutting out the middle man - e.g. citizen media, self-publishing of music, literature and art.

  • Increased openess and transparency - e.g. corporate blogging.

  • Businesses build relationships and have conversations with consumers/clients/customers/fans.

  • Businesses pay more attention to customer feedback, often asking for input at an early stage of development, e.g. R & D in products, beta-testing software.

  • Organisational structure shifts from hierarchical to peer-to-peer - from top-down to bottom-up

  • Decentralisation and distribution of power - no longer dependent on one source - provider or gatekeeper.

  • Blurring of distinction between amateur and professional. Pro-ams & prosumer. Bloggers and citizen journalists, astrology buffs.

  • Crowdsourcing.

Web 2.0 Resources

The last ten URLs saved at del.icio.us and tagged with "web2.0":

    Full list of URLs saved to del.icio.us and tagged with web2.0