Over the past few years a fundamentally different class of Internet services has attracted users, made headlines, and increasingly garnered breathtaking market valuations.
Often referred to under the umbrella term “Web 2.0”, these new services are targeted at harnessing the power of the Internet to empower users to collaborate, create resources, and share information in a distinctly different way than the static websites and transaction focused storefronts that characterized so many failures in the dot com bubble.
Blogs, wikis, social networks, photo and video sharing sites, and tagging systems all fall under the Web 2.0 moniker, as do a host of supporting technologies and related efforts.
The term Web 2.0 is a tricky one because like so many popular technology terms, there’s not a precise definition. Coined by publisher and pundit Tim O’Reilly in 2003, techies often joust over the breadth of the Web 2.0 umbrella and over whether Web 2.0 is something new, or simply an extension of technologies that have existed since the creation of the Internet. These arguments aren’t really all that important. What is significant is how quickly the Web 2.0 revolution came about, how unexpected it was, and how deeply impactful these efforts have become.
While the Web 2.0 moniker is a murky one, we’ll add some precision to our discussion of these efforts by focusing on what is perhaps Web 2.0’s most powerful feature peer production where users work, often collaboratively, to create content and provide services online. Web-based efforts that foster peer-production are often referred to as social media or usergenerated content sites.
These include blogs, wikis, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, communal bookmarking and tagging sites like Del.icio.us, media sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr, and a host of supporting technologies. And it’s not just about media. Peer-produced services like Skype, Joost, and BitTorrent leverage users’ computers instead of a central IT resource to forward phone calls and video. This saves their sponsors the substantial cost of servers, storage, and bandwidth. Techniques such as crowd-sourcing, where initially undefined groups of users band together to solve problems, create code, and develop services are also a type of peer-production (see sidebar). These efforts will be expanded on below, along with several examples of their use and impact.