UNI SP4 Study Period 4 2014

WEB101 M2 Intro What is Web 2.0

Web Communications 101/501

Module 2 Introduction - What is Web 2.0?


With the advent of faster Internet connections and software technologies, the Web has ceased to be merely a repository for information and become a truly interactive platform for collaboration and communication. In this module we are going to consider the Web as it is today, the variety of communication tools that are available and the considerations that arise when developing a presence online.

This week, however, we are being introduced to some of the key ideas behind Web 2.0. What is it? How does it work? Why is it new?

To begin to answer these questions, first watch this video (Duration 4 Mins.):


…and consider this:

“There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

You and I are alive at this moment.” (Kelly, 2005)


Work through the guiding text below, viewing the videos and/or clicking on the highlighted links for further information as you need it. Activities should be completed before the related discussions.

Complete the two short readings in the readings section.

Web 2.0 - Beyond the Buzzword

Web 2.0 is a term that seeks to encompass the changes in Internet technologies, approaches to Web development and people’s use of the Web that have occured since around 2003. Essentially, the term describes an approach to the Web that emphasises communication, collaboration and information sharing. In practical terms it can be considered to be the move towards perceiving the Web as a platform on which other software can run.

Web 1.0

To take a step back, let’s use a retronym. With the idea that the Web is an evolving technology, the early days of the medium are increasingly being referred to as Web 1.0. This is the version of the Web that we have considered up until this point. The defining elements of this era were: •Content designed for low bandwidth (dial-up modem) •Static Pages

Whilst a few stylistic elements you may recall were: •Animated Gifs (Remember those?) •The Blink Tag (Annoying isn’t it?) •Guestbooks •Frames!

In the same way that these design elements have largely passed into history (fortunately!), so too has the idea that the Web is merely a series of static pages. With the widespread adoption of broadband technologies and the development of applications on the Web, it is increasingly being seen as a platform for delivering services.

Web 2.0

The web-based services that typify Web 2.0 often consist of applications that allow users to easily generate and publish0 content. Although home pages have been around as long as the Web, tools such as Blogs, Wikis and social networking websites take advantage of web-based technologies to greatly simplify the process of publishing to the Web. The sharing of this content and the communities that have formed around it have lowered the barriers of entry to the Web, the first many-to-many medium.

Some characteristics of Web 2.0 are (Best, 2006):

A Rich User Experience

Instead of merely reading through a webpage then clicking through to the next, Web 2.0 sites typically offer the user an interactive experience similar to using a program on your home computer. Pages are dynamically generated and responsive to changes the user makes, content can be added and removed seamlessly, and in some cases the functionality is barely distinguishable from that of a desktop application. (e.g. Google Docs, Google Sites)

This shift towards seeing the web itself as a platform, has been referred to as ‘cloud computing’.

User Participation

Perhaps the most obvious trait of Web 2.0 sites is that their users are in the process of creating them. Sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook are some of the most popular websites in the world, their content provided and appreciated by the same group of people. Although in the early days of the web it was always possible for users to create their own web pages, now, through user participation, large numbers of people can shape the nature of the web through collaboration. In many cases web-based applications are specifically built as platforms for people to popuklate with content (E.g. Flickr).

American technology writer Clay Shirky, an advocate of ‘collective intelligence’, has a few ideas about what happens when people are given these kind of tools without any kind of traditional organizational structure (Video Duration 20 Mins.):

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyoNHIl-QLQ] Here Comes Everybody - Clay Shirky Web 2.0 Lecture Part One

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aodSWeO1ts] Here Comes Everybody - Clay Shirky Web 2.0 Lecture Part Two


Simply put, metadata is ‘data about data’. So, let’s say I have a book. Metadata about that book might consist of the author, the date of publication, the edition, language, the publishers, the translator, the number of pages etc. All of this information is metadata about the book, which is the data.

With many users generating metadata, the information stored in a particular web application is categorised not by the site owners but by the users - another example of user participation in Web 2.0.

A good example is delicious.com, a social bookmarking site. Delicious members can bookmark websites of interest and ‘tag’ them with keywords of thier own choosing. Over a period of time, these tags build up. For example, by going to the URL http://delicious.com/tag/web2.0, we can view all the websites that have recently been tagged with this phrase. (A list of related tags is also listed on the right hand side of the page.) The more users use the application, the more usefel it becomes in identifying websites on particular topics.

Tag clouds are a common way of viewing the aggregated result of metadata. The tag cloud pictured below sums up some of the themes of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 Mindmap

Dynamic Content

Another hallmark of Web 2.0 is the generation of dynamic pages through the separation of form and content. Last week, we saw how the markuop langauge of HTML describes how the page should look in your browser. Modern websites often separate this description of the form from the actual content of the page. As an example, consider the front page of a typical news site. Clearly, to write new HTML every time the news changed would be time-consuming and awkward. Instead, the way the page looks (the form) is separated from the information on it (the content).

Activity One - Newsflash!

RSS is a good example of this separation in action. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) takes the content of a website and makes it available independently from the site. Try this: •Open up this page to see the front page of the news.com.au website.

•Now make a note of the current stories under ‘breaking news’ •Now look at the news feed running just below:


The content of the newsfeed is being ‘pulled’ directly from the front page of the news site by embedding the page’s ‘breaking news’ RSS feed into this page! The ‘content’ of the news is delivered separately from the ‘form’ of the page.

Of course, being able to access the same information from two different web pages isn’t that useful. Where this separation becomes interesting is when you want to keep yourself updated on the changing content of a site. Using a dedicated RSS reader, a user can subscribe to the RSS feed of a particular site and have the content delivered straight to thier home computer in much the same way as email. Moreover, RSS feeds are not limited to news sites. They can be generated from any web location where content is regularly updated (E.g. Blogs) This is a very basic example of dynamic content. As you progress in this unit, you will see more of how dynamically generated content is changing the face of the web…


Of course, for all of these technologies to work together to create a seamless user experience, another hallmark of Web 2.0 is a strong emphasis on standards.

Standards such as Ajax, XHTML, CSS and Javascript enable the development of consistent experiences across all users.


Another issue with creating sites and applications that are designed to be used by large numbers of users is scalability. The diagram below shows the exponential growth of Twitter users between 2006 and 2009:

Twitter growth

Clearly, if the designers of Twitter had not considered scalability in the initial development of their application they would have encountered serious problems!

The Business Perspective

In business terms Tim 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. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

In part, this shift has been enbaled by changes in software technologies. Typically, Web 2.0 sites have a rich interactive interface that runs as an application within your browser. Although examples of these rich Internet applications existed prior to Web 2.0 (e.g. Flash, Shockwave), the emphasis on

Business academic Andrew McAfee has argued that the greatest benefits for business will be found be implementing the principles of Web 2.0 within companies, a concept he refers to as Enterprise 2.0. To complement this, he has discussed SLATES, an acronym for the six key components of Web 2.0 for business: •Search (Allow users to find what they are looking for) •Links (Links are important - Allow users to generate them) •Authoring (Allow users to contribute) •Tags (Allow users to provide tags) •Extensions (Use software to anticipate user preferences) •Signals (Let the user know when there is new content)

Each of these topics is dealt with in more detail in Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration. Or, if you prefer, you can see McAfee discussing his ideas in this video (Duration: 1 Hr.):


Participatory Technologies

The advances in software and increase in bandwidth availability, along with emerging user behaviours on the Web have led to a raft of new technologies which allow for content creation, sharing and collaboration. Over the next four weeks we will be taking a deeper look at four of these technologies that have emerged from the rise of Web 2.0.



A simple enough premise, a blog (from ‘weblog’) refers to a website that is published in reverse-chronological order so that the most recent entry appears at the top of the page. First appearing in the late 1990s, blogging software supports the user in maintaining an online ‘diary’ of sorts, sharing text, images and other media with readers. What made blogging the first popular Web 2.0 platform however, were the conversations and connectedness that arose from interlinking and comments - the blogosphere.

Popular online blogging tools include: blogger, wordpress and livejournal,



A wiki is a network of web pages that can be worked on collaboratively by a group of users, using simple tools to add, edit, create and index content. Of course, the most famous wiki is undoubtedly Wikipedia, a project which embodies many of the collaborative idealogy surrounding Web 2.0.

Popular wiki creation tools include wikidot, wikimedia, and wikispaces.

Social Networking

Social Networking

Social networking refers to a number of applications and websites whose functionality is based upon connecting people with each other. Although it can be argued that email and websites have long enabled this process, dedicated services have seen a large increase in uptake over the last 5 years. Social networking sites often incorporate technologies such as blogging, content sharing and messaging, allowing users to create an online profile that can also act as hub of their Internet communications.

Popular social networking services and sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and VK.

Content Sharing


Due to bandwidth restrictions, the only media that was commonly found circulating on the early Web were image files. Later in the 1990s, with the introduction of the MP3 file format audio it became viable for the home user to be moving audio around. By the mid-2000s, the proliferation of broadband connections coupled with advances in compression software has meant that all kinds of media can now be accessed through the Web. Content-sharing sites such as Flickr, YouTube, and Soundcloud make the sharing of these media files simple, whilst offering services which nurture the formation of communities.


Read Tim O’Reilly’s comprehensive overview of the shifts he see as defining Web 2.0 in What Is Web 2.0 Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software (5 Pages).

and for a much shorter but far more cynical take on the wisdom of the crowds, The Wisdom of the Chaperones: Digg, Wikipedia, and the Myth of Web 2.0 democracy

Activity Two - Creating a Delicious Account

In this activity, you are going to create an account with delicious (if you don’t already have one) and ‘tag’ some sites that may be useful in your studies. But first, just to make sure that you are clear about how delicious works, watch this video (3 Mins.):

CommonCraft (2009), Social Bookmarking in Plain English, http://www.commoncraft.com/bookmarking-plain-english

This should have given you a good idea of what social bookmarking is and how you use it. With a few changes, we are going to go through the process as described in this video: •Go to the delicious website here •Now, sign up to use the service. (Ideally using the username you selected at the beginning of the unit) •Once you’ve done that, go to delicious’ tools page and add a bookmarking button to your browser or mobile device. •You are now ready to start using delicious. •Over the course of the next week, try doing a little web searching for articles related to Web 2.0 and ‘social media’. Whenever you find a site that you think might be useful (to both yourself and other students), bookmark that site and tag it web101 and write a short annotation detailing what the resource is and why it is useful. •Of course, you can apply any other tags that are meaningful to you, but make sure to use this shared tag as well as those of your own. •Through the week, try to gather at least 5 sites in this way. •At the end of the week, use the tag search in delicious to search for sites with the tag web101 to see the sites that your fellow students have bookmarked.


Best, D., 2006. Web 2.0 Next Big Thing or Next Big Internet Bubble? Lecture Web Information Systems. Techni sche Universiteit Eindhoven.


NEXT: Topic 2.1 Into the Blogosphere