Social Enterprise

Getting to the bottom of a buzzword: What is Web 2.0?

Are you a Dilbert fan? I find his strips not only hilarious but they often hit close to home. It's as if Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has a cube in every office in America. This explains why so many people relate to his comic strip and his immense popularity. I found this strip to be particularly timely and amusing.

I found it timely because I had a coworker recently ask me what Web 2.0 meant. As I started to explain it, the further I got along in the explanation, the more I realized that perhaps I really didn't understand what Web 2.0 really is? Then coincidently, I came across a magazine article which seemed to imply that Web 2.0 was nothing more than building better customer relations through communities — kind of like CRM on steroids. Hmm, I thought to myself, that sure isn't what I thought Web 2.0 was about.

So like every good researcher, I turned to Google. (How did we ever know anything prior to the Internet?) I googled Web 2.0 (yes, now it's a verb too <g>), and I received 76,200,000 hits. After perusing about 100 links, I have come to realize that either everyone knows what Web 2.0 is (and has an opinion on it) or no one really knows what the heck it is (but has an opinion anyway.)

My explanation of Web 2.0 to my coworker focused on the Web as a platform, Web services, AJAX, and lightweight applications. Depending on who you read, I am either spot on or I am a million miles from the truth.

According to Tim O'Reilly in a September 2005 article in which he claims to be co-inventor of the term, I came sort of close in my explanation. However, in his five-page definition of Web 2.0 (if it takes five pages is it really a definition?), I must admit I found some areas a bit vague and subject to interpretation.

As I dug further, reading through white papers and Wikipedia, user comments on the O'Reilly article, and anything else that looked informational, I began to realize that Web 2.0 is either (a) just a buzz word that means nothing at all, (b) a term that means whatever the user thinks it means, (c) the Web as it exists today, (d) the technology of the future. If I had to vote on one of these choices, I'd pick C, however that is a rather broad explanation isn't it?

I would define Web 2.0 as the Web as a platform, but not only is that definition a bit trite but there are many of you (myself included) who viewed the Web as a platform well before the dot-com bubble burst and well before Web services. I for one jumped on the "death of the thick client" as quickly as that bandwagon arrived so I was seeing the Web as a delivery platform and as a savior in corporate computing.

So what then is Web 2.0 really? My definition is: stable and reliable high-speed bandwidth and the tools and applications that spring from it that allow the "network to be the computer" rather than being bound by your local PCs capabilities. Is my definition worth a hill of beans? Based on the plethora of competing definitions, why not?

Seriously though, the gist of this article is to point out that you should be highly suspicious every time you see the words Web 2.0 and more importantly, try to understand the intended definition of its user — particularly if they are trying to sell you something!

So what do you think Web 2.0 is? A bunch of tripe or a significant movement in the way the Web and Web applications operate? Is it even necessary to understand it? Your opinion is just as valid as the 76 million I came across - so chime in and let me know.

Editor's Picks