Web 2.0: the Internet, upgraded

The first computer ever built took up an entire room and didn’t have the processing power of most coffee makers on the market today. Advancing technology continues to shrink computer hardware. In the near future, the term “computer” will simply mean the monitor, keyboard and Internet connection.

Computer engineers freed the computer from its birthing room, moved it into millions of homes and offices across the globe and spawned the Internet. Web 2.0 is the next step in this evolution. It will release computers from their boxes and move applications online. Hard drives, including the highly portable thumb drives, will become as obsolete as floppy disks when all storage moves to the Web.

No more excuses about forgetting assignments at home. Documents created and stored online can be downloaded right from the classroom. No more losing data. As documents are created on the Web, they are constantly updated and saved. Simultaneously, the data is backed-up on several web servers. No more heavy laptops or clunky towers.

“Fundamentally, it’s better to keep your money in the bank than in your pocket,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in November. This is also true for data. It is fundamentally better to keep your documents and files in a central, fortified server farm then on individual, buggy computer systems. This movement of data storage enables portable devices – such as smart phones emerging on the market – to connect to the Web.

Lightweight, high-resolution portable screens with high-speed wireless Internet access will decrease in price and become more available. Instead of opening applications on stationary computers at home or at school, users will log onto their accounts from anywhere. Their applications and documents will come to them, wherever they are. This article, for example, was written online.

Google developed Writely.com, an online document and spreadsheet program. Anyone with a Gmail account has the application already. Using that software, part of this article was written from one location. Later, it was revised from across town.

Google Docs and Spreadsheets, as the application is called now, also offer the ability for long distance collaboration. An author can authorize other users to view and edit any document. All of the revised versions are saved and changes can be used or discarded. This article lived online. The Montage editor at the Oracle accessed it, made final revisions and published it. No hard copy. No disks.

Google is engaging the Web 2.0 movement by buying many online applications that are growing in popularity. The recent purchase of YouTube seated Google firmly in the Internet video market. “Something happened this year where all of a sudden, video became a fundamental data type on the Internet,” said Schmidt. Other Web 2.0 applications are already widely used.

MySpace and Facebook accounts are held by millions. These Web 2.0 applications are the next generation of Web sites, because they not only allow users to read about their friends and acquaintances, but offer them a platform to talk with them. Posting comments and continually updating profiles brings a static page alive. This many-to-one and many-to-many model of conversation was born out of the Web. Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, promotes the collaborative advantage of Web 2.0.

O’Reilly said Web 2.0 is “harnessing network effects to build applications that get better the more people that use them.” The more users who post a profile and comments on these sites, the more interesting the site becomes. User generated content advances the site past the platform.

MySpace designs and hosts the platform and users add to it. Users share templates, page designs and functions. The best designs and functions have a viral effect.

A cool photo viewer can come from a piece of code created by one user. This code is then picked-up by another, and another. Soon thousands of users are using that photo viewer on their homepage. The design was not created by the few who designed the platform, but was created and implemented by the many users. The users are creating the site.

O’Reilly described this collaboration as “harnessing collective intelligence.” Many hands make light work, and many minds make innovative content. Blogs are another way this model has taken hold of communication.

Publishing a weblog, or blogging, is a Web 2.0 application that has changed the way we receive information. There are many free, user-friendly services that allow anyone with basic Web surfing skills to publish their thoughts and perspectives to the many. Being able to retrieve information from many sources about practically any subject has had a revolutionary effect on the new industry.

“I remembered that old cliche that journalists write the first rough draft of history. Well, now the bloggers were writing the first draft,” said Dan Gillmor, author of We The Media. Citizen journalism is emerging as a credible news source. Many issues regarding journalistic standards and reputation have surfaced. But there is no denying the power of decentralized information when seeking the truth. Blogging isn’t the only online application that has threatened business as usual.

Craig’s List, an online classified site started by Craig Newmark in the San Francisco area, was a way for he and some of his friends to trade things they no longer used. Now, Craig’s List is in 310 cities all over the world. It has been credited with adding to the newspaper industry decline by putting classifieds in the hands of the sellers and buyers. Without newspaper control, a community is formed. Users place the ads and communicate with each other. Craig’s List is the platform, but the content is from the users. Web 2.0 is changing the standard business model.

Web 2.0 gives consumers a platform to discuss products and services. Instead of relying on companies’ ads or persuading press, consumers are able to talk to each other and find an authentic, first-hand opinion. The more people in on the conversation, the more accurate the information. And this is just the beginning.

“Web 2.0 of next year will be very different then this year,” said O’Reilly at the beginning of this year’s Summit. People are joining the conversation, creating new content and learning from each other. Innovation with virtually unlimited resources is infinite. Web 2.0 is a new platform that will serve as a foundation of the next level of the technological evolution.