Web 2.0: What It Means For You

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The phrase “Web 2.0” has been bandied about publicly now for at least three years. O’Reilly Media, the coiner of the phrase, has been responsible for exploring — if not defining — it in a series of well-known articles that are widely available on the Web. It’s a phrase that describes two essential elements: social networking and the creation of feature-rich applications delivered through a Web browser.

For those who haven’t read O’Reilly’s articles or the obligatory Wikipedia entry, Web 2.0 is meant to describe the clever use of social networks, as well as common markup and scripting languages (e.g., JavaScript, XML and XHTML).

A good Web 2.0 page can bring a full-featured, socially aware application right into your Web browser, one that has as many features as one you would install but without the hassle.

Web 2.0 applications better exploit the client-server relationship, using not only the server’s power but also the client’s capabilities. Further, these applications are socially aware and adaptive. They improve each time they are used. And end-users can do more than control and store the information they create — they can invite thousands of people to collaborate and rank their efforts. Peer-based communication of this magnitude is unprecedented.

Is Web 2.0 Ajax?
It is often said that Web 2.0 means Ajax. Not really — Ajax is one of many possible technologies. Programmers and visionaries have talked about creating Rich Internet Application (RIA) for years, and Ajax is the most public way of creating a sort of RIA. Using approaches such as Ajax and other methods, you can:



  • Enable “type ahead” features, something normally reserved for traditional, installed applications.
  • Have prefetching: the ability to anticipate an end-user’s next move and automatically download content before it is called for. If you’ve ever used GoogleMaps and have moved from one map area to the next without a long download, you’ve enjoyed this feature.
  • Have true state maintenance: If you log out of an application and then return, it will remember exactly where you were.


It’s the (Social) Networking, Stupid!
Remember: Web 2.0 isn’t just a technology play. This time, it’s social. Perhaps the best example of social networking is the latest way Web professionals use tagging.

In traditional tagging, you insert meta data information into a page that users normally don’t see. This information tags pages for easy categorization. Self-tagging can be useful because it allows the page’s creator to suggest the page’s audience. Search engines then read the tags and categorize the page accordingly for a specific audience.

This strategy has some flaws, however. First, it assumes the people who created the page actually know their audience. Second, self-tagging assumes you use the tool accurately. If the meta data information is used cynically or inaccurately, then the tagging process fails.

The Web 2.0 solution stops relying on the creators, and instead it opts for a social taxonomy, often called a “folksonomy.” Google used this strategy for years before expanding its services. Why use this term? Partly because technological movements love to use neologisms. Second, and more legitimately, “folksonomy” describes the practice of using the masses to help categorize information.

Using sophisticated algorithms and data collection methods, clever programmers and designers have found ways to move the tagging process from the creator to the consumer. Social tagging, then, allows the audience to become something of a Nielsen ratings service, although it is less controlled by any one company or think tank. Now, masses of users can control, promote and focus a topic.

The Implications of Web 2.0 for IT Professionals
Web 2.0 has taught us that we need good code, useful project managers and clever writers. It has also provided us with some front-end and back-end challenges. First, with Web 2.0, open source and vendor-neutrality have strongly reasserted themselves with the Web.

Certifications such as Certified Internet Web Professional (CIW), the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) LPIC 1, 2 and 3 and (ISC)2’s CISSP all stand to benefit from Web 2.0 approaches, and open-source pundits just might have the opportunity to do something profitable this time.

Make sure you know how open-source languages and tools, including JavaScript XML, XHTML, Linux and Apache, work together. Web 2.0 is built on these technologies — you ignore them at your peril, no matter how popular a vendor’s product becomes. IE7’s rather modest entry to the market isn’t necessarily a sign that Firefox has taken over. Rather, it’s a sign that the browser is a mere piece of the puzzle today.

Second, project management is essential. The latest uses of the Web have taught us that we need to learn more about project management. Web 2.0 applications might take more time to develop. Although Web 2.0 front ends are simple, the back-end technology isn’t. Because development is more sophisticated, you need to spend more time and money, which necessitates effective project management.

Third, a Web 2.0 strategy emphasizes the importance of communicating complex ideas in pithy, precise language — you need clever writers and markers. How do you make this easy? One way is to try and make the words on your page the product of social networking.

The description on how to use del.icio.us’ bookmarking services suggests several uses for social bookmarks, including “researching,” “podcasting” or “linkloging.”

These ideas probably shouldn’t be lumped in the same bulleted list, assuming that the audience would care little about these words, even if they understood them. Del.icio.us didn’t simply create this list out of thin air. It used its ample audience and the results of its sophisticated algorithms to determine how to create its help pages and describe services. In addition to using detailed demographic studies, Del.icio.us used folksonomy to improve its site, as well as its software. This approach makes the folks at del.icio.us smarter and more efficient because they’ve figured out a way to get their audience to reveal their priorities for them.

Front-End Issues
As far as the front end is concerned, today’s Web browser is still inadequate. Many of the technologies used to create feature-rich applications employ workarounds. For example, the browser’s back button gets “broken” by Web 2.0 applications mainly because the browser uses background requests that the browser’s history feature doesn’t know about.

Sure, the two big M’s — Mozilla and Microsoft — will “fix” their browsers. New challenges always will appear, almost guaranteeing the browser won’t ever quite be ready for prime time. It’s been 15 years now, and the browser hasn’t yet caught up yet. It likely never will. The most successful programmers and business models will find ways to mitigate the browser’s limitations.

Also, what if your company mandates that you disable scripting support in your browser? The most clever programming can be defeated with one click of a mouse.

Many mainstream security professionals recommend disabling JavaScript at the corporate level. Whether this is an overly protective move is irrelevant. Will the power of Web 2.0/AJAX/AIP programming change this attitude very quickly? Everyone knows how slowly corporate culture changes occur, especially when the word “security” is uttered.

Back-End Issues
On the back end, most Web 2.0 code makes asynchronous calls to a Web server. The initial front-end request is separate. The fact that multiple calls occur per session can make it difficult to track sessions. If this is the case, companies might have problems with their revenue models. After all, if asynchronous calls occur, how do you track them and apply a metric? Also, multiple asynchrono

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