Category Archives: technology

What is Web 2.0?

There’s a lot of talk these days about Web 2.0. What is “Web 2.0″ exactly? What do people mean when apply the label to something? Web 2.0 is a buzzword, a sensibility and a revolution all in one. At its root, Web 2.0 is a combination of style and substance. For most people, the term is far easier to recognize than define, so it’s best to include explanation alongside example.

Web 2.0

I. Style

Large fonts, large line-spacing, large images, large search bars, large everything! Two hallmarks of the first websites ever were the choppy, hard-to-read fonts and tiny-but-still-slow-to-load images. The first wasn’t necessarily a problem since people didn’t tend to read much or for long on their computers. Times have changed. Email, news, e-books, forums and essays are all commonly read off the screen now, leading websites to adopt to ever-larger fonts that reduce eye strain and make the text more digestible.

With the ubiquity of high-speed internet connections, images have also become quicker to download, allowing the option of more visual navigation, particularly through computer languages like Flash and Ajax. Screen resolutions in general are higher, moving from the former standard of 800 pixels x 600 pixels to the new standard of 1024 pixels x 768 pixels and beyond. This extra space allows for these larger on-page components.

Glassy buttons, glassy logos, glassy badges, glassy images, glassy everything! Using a few simple photoshop effects, nearly every image is treated to make it look glassy, three-dimensional and sophisticated. This is a direct reaction to the usual flat, basic images used in the first generation of websites. It also compliments the larger fonts and forms by making site interaction obvious and rudimentary.

Light, bright, pastel colors! Big fonts and big classy buttons are harnessed in templates that use plenty of white space to keep sites breezy and uncluttered. The color palettes aid this effect by eschewing dark, heavy colors in favor of soft neons. The result is a site with a simple, elegant theme that looks technologically advanced, but not threatening or confusing.

Here are four examples of Web 2.0 designs: del.icio.us, Last FM, WordPress and Technorati.

Web 2.0 Style
II. Substance

Community-generated content. Many Web 2.0 sites are the properties of new internet startups, low on staff but high on savvy. With a skeleton crew of just a few people, these companies let their traffic pay their bills and provide their content in the shape of forums, uploads and blogs. To make it easy for users to participate, many Web 2.0 sites use GUI(Graphical User Interface) applications and WYSIWYG(What You See Is What You Get) forms.They use technology to make it easy for users to input data, technology to maintain the data and technology to display the data. That allows them to focus most of their efforts on marketing, which is important because users may be willing to post pictures of themselves sailing, but may not be willing to spend any money. As a result, many Web 2.0 sites are monetized inefficiently by methods like Google AdSense, which squeezes pennies out of traffic.

Fads, niches and flavors of the month. Because of the low overhead in starting up a website, many people in the industry won’t hesitate to get one up as fast as possible if they see an opportunity. It could be anything–board games, terrorism or hockey fights. The key is to get the traffic. Once there, that traffic can be monetized in a variety of ways, depending on the site.

Optimized for Search Engines. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, wasn’t a consideration in the early days of the internet. Then came Yahoo. Then came Google. These days, ranking well for the desired keywords in Google is often the difference between success and failure for a website. No matter how good the content on your site, no matter how much word-of-mouth buzz you can generate, if you can’t be found by someone using a search engine, you might as well not exist. To that end, a whole industry has grown, devoted to the art and science of making sites search-engine-friendly. Any Web 2.0 site worth its salt will have basic SEO components in place, including META Descriptions, unique page titles and clean “permalink” URLs. They’ll also actively solicit links using link bait, link exchange and money.

Here are some examples of well-known Web 2.0 sites that offer unique content: YouTube, Lifehacker, Facebook and Digg.

Web 2.0 Substance

The term Web 2.0, like its site designs and content, may well be more transient than the first generation of websites. Overall, they frequently have less work and thought invested in them, and they are usually of a commercial rather than informational nature. On the other hand, crowdsourcing and community-created resources like the Wikipedia may be the wave of the future, with the collective will of the whole determining the direction of the Web instead of a few visionaries. Either way, there’s no doubting the Web 2.0 movement’s importance in the evolution of the internet and its status as the standard of the World Wide Web today.

The Value of a Good Alter Ego

In recent weeks, blogs like Lifehacker have championed tactics and services aimed at increasing a person’s online visibility. While this may be useful for a future President of the United States, a far more useful lesson would be how to create an [online] alter ego.

Pleased to meet myself.

Take Henry Chinaski and Kilgore Trout. Doppelgängers like Bukowski and Vonnegut’s typically move the story forward, stand as filters between authors and their writing, or simply act as punching bags for whatever humiliation or violence is required. In just these ways, your own alter ego can help you.

Moving the story forward – Most web-savvy folks these days will at least sample the latest online trend, be it Myspace, Squidoo or Digg. Almost all sites require registration, which can stop your curiosity dead in its tracks. Do you really want your name to be connected to Myspace? Do you want your boss to know that you’re Digging stories about Why Christian Bale is a Badass while you should be working? Use your alter ego as your username and even your password and the barrier to entry has been circumvented, without a second thought from you.

A filter between authors and their writing – There are plenty of things you want to say about that girl in Logistics, your creepy mail carrier or Christian Bale, but you don’t necessarily want to attach your name to those words. Don’t worry. Your alter ego will take the heat for you, while the Scientologists religious wackos you tick off go crazy trying to find and sue a figment of your imagination. You’d be surprised how liberated and cavalier you feel when you know you won’t have to answer for your misandric tirade.

A punching bag for whatever humiliation and violence is required – Your email inbox is much to delicate to handle an assault of newsletters, updates, great deals, limited-time-offers, stock quotes, Nigerian ex-Presidents’ pleas for financial help, pharmaceutical price guides, and worst of all, spam. Your alter ego’s email account, however, doesn’t mind nearly as much. And if it dies, it can be easily replaced. Set up a whitelist to forward emails you deem worthy, and you’ve got a nice double filter on your email.

So how do you go about getting an alter ego? You conjure it, of course. Using these simple steps:

  1. Come up with a name. Make it snappy, unique, and slightly hilarious if you wish.
  2. Give it some modern accouterments such as an email address, a standard password, a backstory, a Google account, and even a fake mailing address.
  3. Go nuts. For any site that you aren’t sure about, your alter ego will take the bullet for you. And you can always sign up “for real” at a later date, or simply maintain your exciting double life.

Do I have an alter ego? You bet I do.

I’m No Hypocrite.

Craigslist Has What You Need

I owe a lot to Craigslist. The community classified website has a simple style that hasn’t been changed for as long as I’ve seen it, and its users successfully keep out spammers and other commercial interests despite its open nature.

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark, the creator, keeps himself refreshingly low-profile and seems genuinely happy to have contributed such an effective online tool to the world. For those unfamiliar with Craigslist, here’s a quick summary:

The site is divided up into portions and sub-portions based on geography. For instance, there’s a Hartford Craigslist, a New Haven Craigslist, a Northwest CT Craigslist, an Eastern CT Craigslist and a Fairfield County Craigslist. Within these local portions, there are a series of classifieds, including housing, jobs, things for sale, personals and more. Anyone can post to any of these categories, either offering something or seeking something.

Which brings me to what I owe Craigslist. How’s this:

  • A 4′ x 3′ fiberglass troubadour wall-hanging
  • Two pub chairs
  • An overstuffed loveseat
  • My 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity Eurowaggon
  • My job

Not too shabby.

Thumbs Down to Microsoft Expressions

I’ve been fiddling around for a couple of hours with Microsoft Expressions, the design application for Silverlight’s BETA flavor. It earned a resounding thumbs-down. I’m not completely thick, and I couldn’t follow the instructions to make a simple rollover button.

MS Expressions: Crap

Now which Edit Template did I want again?

Besides boasting instructions obviously written by a programmer, the controls were unintuitive and something common like selecting a background color for the button required about 13 steps. That’s my guess, anyway, since I couldn’t figure out how to do that either.

Furthermore, Expressions Blend only accepts image files from its sister program, Expressions Design, which appears to be a bad Photoshop clone. So in order to bring a GIF file into the hot navigation you’re making in Blend, you must first open it in Design, then copy and paste it into Blend. Are you kidding me!?

Maybe I’ll try it again later, if this truly is the future of the web. But this is a very discouraging start to Microsoft’s attempts to catch Adobe in the world of multimedia.

Leonardo Da Vinci Site

While looking at the Webby Awards, which are given out annually in lots of categories, I came across this Leonardo Da Vinci site with lots of great stuff. It’s got images of sketches, paintings, and inventions, plus a thorough and expansive history of everything Da Vinci.

Skull

Besides all of the great information, the site has a terrific design that really demonstrates the breadth of Leonardo’s interests and talents. I like to fancy myself as something of a Renaissance Man, and seeing what he did is wonderful inspiration. I think it’s safe to say that there will never be another human as widely gifted as Leonardo Da Vinci.

I’ll Have the Roast Duck, With the Mango Salsa

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the GEICO cavemen (if not the company they promote). Not only are the commercials consistently hilarious in an of themselves, they’ve created an entire reality for themselves in just a few short TV ads.

Now, they’ve expanded that reality and put in online. Just check out the depth of the Caveman’s Crib.

The caveman comes out and chats with you, and then you’re free to explore his apartment, listen to his iPod, read his e-mail and see the notes he makes in the margins of Don Quixote.

Caveman's Crib

Take the time to look around, and amusement will surely follow. On a side note, there are rumors of an upcoming GEICO caveman TV show, which I think will be fabulous if it happens.