An Overview of Web 2.0

By Wolfgang Jaegel and Gregory Smyth

Of all the Internet buzzwords, Web 2.0 seems to have gained the most prominence recently. But what is Web 2.0? This article will try to answer that question and to provide an overview of some of the Web 2.0 technologies and websites that are changing the face of the Internet.

The phrase "Web 2.0" is usually attributed to Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, who popularized it at the first Web 2.0 conference in 2004. O'Reilly defines Web 2.0 as: "The business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform."

Put another way, Web 2.0 is a cultural and paradigm shift. It affects what the Internet does, the information it makes available, and how people use it. It also involves a shift in the way content on the Internet is generated. It used to be that content was made available by websites, and Internet users accessed that content. This has changed. Increasingly, Internet users are generating their own content, via Blogs, social media sites such as MySpace, consumer review sites and online resources such as Wikipedia.

To understand these changes, let's take a look at some specific examples that are affecting the way companies conduct their marketing online:

Blogs - A Blog is a personal web log written by an Internet user. Blogs can be about almost any topic imaginable, and they frequently carry comments (either positive or negative) about brands. Tracking Blog comments is a good way of judging public opinion about a brand, and can be done via Blog search engines such as Technorati.com.

Podcasts - Podcasts are essentially audio or video versions of Blogs, with content being released in downloadable media files that can be played on computers, portable media devices, iPods and many mobile phones. Podcasts are heavily used by the big media outlets such as CNN, and sponsorship of the most popular Podcasts is becoming big business.

Social Media - Social Media refers to websites and portals such as MySpace and Friendster that serve as online social networking communities. Users create their own profiles, add content and create networks of interlinked friends. Although social media may have the image of being for teenagers, this isn't the case: 40% of members of MySpace are between the ages of 35 and 50.

Video Upload Sites - YouTube is the classic example here, and with an average of 34 million visits each month it is having a profound effect on the way media content is distributed online. Advertisers are currently exploring ways in which to use YouTube, with new non-intrusive ad formats in development and companies such as Jeep creating their own YouTube channels.

Wikipedia - An online, user-generated encyclopaedia, Wikipedia has become an Internet phenomenon, with over 8 million articles in 253 languages. Anyone can make changes to Wikipedia, but articles that are obviously "hard-sell" tend to get deleted very quickly - as some online marketers have discovered.

Bookmarking Sites - Bookmarking sites such as Digg.com allow users to find, rate and save interesting news stories, websites and online articles. Digg.com uses a ranking system that allows the top-rated items to be promoted to the front page. Items that rank well on Digg.com quickly amass significant numbers of views.

Virtual Worlds - Online virtual worlds such as Second Life are attracting millions of "residents" who interact via customized avatars. Second Life features its own economy, with property and goods changing hands for convertible "Linden Dollars". Marketers are moving into Second Life too. Adidas and Dell both have virtual stores, whilst Mazda promotes its brand by giving away virtual concept cars.

Software as a Service - Aside from the various new types or websites, portals and networks, the other major Web 2.0 development is software as a service. This is software that is delivered on-demand over the Internet rather than purchased as a pre-packaged product. A good example here is the Salesforce electronic Customer Relationship Management System, which is available as an online service. Software as a Service allows organizations to benefit from key functionality when it is needed, without having to buy a piece of software outright.

All of these developments are causing a tectonic shift in the way the Internet is used. As more and more of the content available online is generated by users, marketers are losing a measure of control over how their brands are presented and perceived online. Online marketing is becoming less of a monologue and more of a conversation, with consumers having their say too. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Listening to what consumers have to say, via Blogs, bookmarking and review sites can be of great benefit to marketers, yielding insights into how brands are perceived and how they can be most effectively promoted. And syndication of content via Web 2.0 channels can have a positive impact on Search Engine rankings, as well generating interest in websites and brands.