Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

What does Web 2.0 mean for the internet?

What is this much-talked-about Web 2.0 actually supposed to be? And should I care?

Get a few dotcom executives into a boardroom with a flipchart, scrawl "Web 2.0" on it with a marker pen, sit back and watch them torment each other with outlandish definitions. The phrase was first uttered, unsurprisingly, during a brainstorming session at a new media company in the US. It was subsequently decided that the principles that characterised this new internet experience included "the perpetual Beta" and "leveraging the power of The Long Tail". It's not surprising that such nebulous marketing-speak provokes exasperation from many in the industry. "Every time I try to formulate a description of Web 2.0," writes developer Paul Waite, "I end up wanting to scream. It's certainly not a technology, nor a group of technologies. At best, it's a group of techniques." But an e-mail from Mark Anderson urges calm. "From a user's perspective," he says, "definitions really don't matter."

A more useful approach might be to consider the features that supposedly come under the Web 2.0 umbrella: the social interactivity of sites such as MySpace; the collaborative document, or wiki, as used by Wikipedia; RSS syndication - which keeps people updated with changes to your site - as shown on blogging services; the ability for readers leave feedback; the storing of your content online, as with photo site Flickr; and attractive design - as seen on Newsvine. In other words, where Web 1.0 might have had static pages that were viewed passively, Web 2.0 encourages participation. "The way we use the internet is changing radically," writes Ashley Lynch, "and someone has just decided to label it Web 2.0."

There's no denying that these innovations are reshaping the social landscape of the internet, but the rise of Web 2.0 as a buzzword has, inevitably, led to it being abused. If anyone asks if a website is "Web 2.0 enabled", you can be pretty sure they don't know what they're talking about, and what they probably mean is a) does it look pleasant, and b) can readers leave comments on it. Similarly, if you see a site that boasts being "Web 2.0 compliant", you can dismiss it with the contempt you'd reserve for someone who describes themselves as "sophisticated" on an internet dating profile. "The most amusing thing about Web 2.0," says Simon Ball, "is hearing futuristic ideas about what Web 3.0 or even Web 10.0 might involve." Those dotcom executives are surely salivating over the prospect of, say, their thoughts being transmitted directly to the company website - dispensing with the need for a boardroom, a flipchart or, indeed, a marker pen.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Kev Sanderson:

"Tesco is running adverts that hint at the notion of a free-to-use national Tesco telephone network for broadband users. Is it too good to be true? Should I take up their offer, or are other companies likely to follow suit in the near future?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.

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