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.

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