Web 2.0: What You Need to Know
So, What is it?
Web 2.0 is either a buzz word or the hallmark of genuine change, depending on your point of view. The phrase was coined in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Media, who suggested it again with his own definition in 2006. According to O’Reilly, Web 2.0 is a “business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a 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.” 
The use of “2.0” suggests a new and better version of what was there before, but there’s no “official” definition, so Web 2.0 means different things to different people. Some feel it’s just a natural evolution – it’s not the Web that’s changed, it’s the way people are using it. In any case, this “second generation” of the Web involves communities, Web-based services and tools for collaboration. Author Andrew Keen sees Web 2.0 as the celebration of amateurism, as seen in the popularity of blogs and self-produced videos, of the kind we’ve come to enjoy on YouTube.
Whatever 2.0 implies, it’s based on the promulgation of new techniques for Web programming. Within the original standards of HTML, form and content couldn’t be separated, so the way a page looked was woven together with what a page said. The migration to XML facilitates automated data exchange, so that form and content can be considered individually. XML supports a general move toward people-oriented applications, since it simplifies the process of Web publishing.
These people-oriented innovations can be seen in a number of recent developments. Web logs, or blogs, let individuals push content directly to the Web, and the evolution of the “blogosphere” has spawned a new kind of citizen journalism. RSS, an acronym for “Really Simple Syndication,” lets one Web site push its content out to other sites via an RSS subscription. RSS feeds make it easier for people to keep track of information that’s frequently updated, turning the Web’s traditional pull communication model into one that pushes information directly to those who want it. Social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook are supporting new ways for like-minded people to connect with each other, and new vehicles for entrepreneurial promotion. Finally, many publishing sites have established themselves as community platforms and useful content repositories. Two examples are the photo-sharing site Flickr and the URL-sharing site called del.icio.us.
Web 2.0 means that Web sites aren’t self-contained silos anymore. Web 2.0 is about sharing, trading and collaboration, and a core 2.0 principle is to bring interactive publishing tools to the masses. For the site owner, engaging people is no longer a one-way process, since interactivity is becoming the norm. Expectations are changing, and people want to do more at a site than read and click.
In fact, small businesses can use 2.0 concepts to engage with their customers, thereby building a sense of community and increasing customer loyalty. Loyal customers mean repeat business and reduced sales costs. Loyal customers also serve as agents for sales, recommending your business to others. However, breaking down the barriers through customer communities means you must deliver on your promises, in products, services and support. News of customer service issues travels very quickly in a 2.0 world.
Depending on your needs, 2.0 technologies can provide new insights for product development and improve customer support. Survey tools can gather feedback and help you understand how your customers feel about your offerings. Social networking applications can let customers advise each other and share experiences. In addition, more powerful communication tools, such as pod casts and video, can improve the quality of the customer experience.
Things to Consider
One set of 2.0 applications offers ways for you to increase the frequency and focus of the information you provide through the Web. With a blog, you can publish news, commentary or other information in a dynamic way, without the need for special programming knowledge. A wiki can let you and your customers collaborate on content development, and can help define new product opportunities.
Video and audio components, as downloads or as live streams, can provide an engaging way to deliver sales messages, training or other material. Some 2.0 applications can increase your accessibility to the outside world. For example, widgets are small bits of code that can be added to a Web site to perform some designated function. Some widgets will let your customers connect to sales and support directly from the site, using chat or IP telephony. Other widgets let customers “subscribe” to your content with newsreaders, so they’ll be notified when new information is published.
Still other 2.0 applications offer opportunities to save money and improve efficiency outside of a customer context. Basic office applications (word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools) are moving from the desktop to the Web. A Web-enabled office platform improves your employees’ ability to collaborate, reduces software license costs and may reduce the need for IT support staff.
People are coming to expect interactivity and customization, and Web 2.0 features can help you meet those expectations. A more interactive site can reduce customer support costs and increase customer satisfaction. Web 2.0 techniques can give you a better understanding of your customer base, and provide targeted ways of reaching out to individual customers. The effective use of Web 2.0 ideas can improve the image you present on the Web.
The philosophy of Web 2.0 also implies a low-cost deployment. The key to a more interactive site isn’t a matter of adding expensive software, but rather of considering the 2.0 possibilities and integrating them with your current process. Many Web 2.0 tools are available for free, or at very low cost. However, it’s important to be sure you’re ready to support them; don’t make yourself more accessible if there’s no one to reply. Being responsive is key to the Web 2.0 “conversation,” regardless of whether it’s done by phone, by blog or by email.
2. Keen, Andrew; The Cult of the Amateur; 2007
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Web 2.0: What You Need to Know