Cheat Sheet: Web 2.0

What on earth is it and should you care?

Web 2.0? I'm learning to spot a buzzword when I hear one and I think I just have...
Web 2.0 is one of those phrases which we're hearing a lot about currently. Everybody says they're very excited about it but do they really know what it is?

So what is it?
Well, in the simplest terms it's the phrase being applied to 'the second coming' of the internet. Dot-com investors are partying like it's 1999 and a number of pioneering online services are very much keeping that party exciting, getting everybody talking about the internet once more and its increasing relevance to our lives.

Such as?
Well, web 2.0 is a bit of a catch-all which covers a broad range of new online services, user-generated content, communities and social networking tools. The most popular are sites such as Blogger, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia and the Godfather of web 2.0 - Google. The phrase also refers to the creation of far greater levels of interactivity, not just between users, or between users and the internet but between complementary online services through mash-ups and web services.

So this is all consumer stuff - photo-sharing and the like?
That's where a lot of the energy is coming from and the services doing the early running have absolutely been focused on driving and exploiting end-user trends. However, the idea that the web is 'where it's at' is not lost on big business. For example web 2.0 covers 'software as a service' (SaaS) - companies are being told they no longer have to buy software but instead should access applications online. Many people aren't yet ready to embrace that move but investors and advocates of SaaS are certainly convinced.

Where'd the name come from?
The 2.0 name is a clear allusion to the naming convention of software updates - this is the internet version 2.0, get it? - which is slightly ironic given the revolution taking place in software as a service isn't good news for traditional client/server software.

Why's that?
Well, to quote Marc Benioff, CEO of "All of the action is in services. Web 2.0 is where the action is." His company has embraced this move whole-heartedly, providing a portal for all manner of web 2.0 applications aimed at the enterprise - including online word processors and spreadsheets (nobody said web 2.0 had to be limited to interesting, fun applications).

Gartner is also convinced web 2.0 should be a major consideration for businesses.

But should I care?
Absolutely you Luddite. Two or three years ago there was a feeling that innovation online had failed to emerge from the doldrums of the dot-com boom and bust cycle and had hit something of a dead end but now innovation is arguably at its most frenetic level ever. Never underestimate the effect the internet can have on our lives and now all we need is a browser and a broadband connection and there's very little we can't do.

Isn't there a danger that mistakes will be repeated? We've been here before, haven't we?
We've certainly, very famously, seen an internet boom before and history has shown us that bust follows boom but there is some bedrock here. Of course there are question marks over how YouTube will make money, for example - because great ideas and even popularity don't pay the bills - and the next stage for the investors will be monetising the excitement that surrounds web 2.0. Not every service which launches under that banner will survive but a great many will, probably though acquisition in a lot of cases.

Acquisition by whom?
Well Google for starters. The internet giant is absolutely at the heart of web 2.0 and the ability to bring many of these services together to create vast interlinked content offerings will certainly appeal. For the enterprise and end-user Google already offers a number of Office-style applications as a hosted offering. The company is also readying the finished version of its hosted email Exchange-offering.

The more, dare we say 'interesting' web 2.0 content will also appeal to Google as it puts ever more flesh on its content bones.