Web 2.0, Part 2: Serious Business Tool or Silly Waste of Time?

How do you suppose a professor of computer science and engineering might use Web 2.0 tools? Assisting students to manage an intramural sports league online is probably not the first thing that would come to mind. That, though, is exactly what Yannis Papakonstantinou, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, does.

He recently helped to launch a new application called app2u.org, which allows people to use their browser to build their own custom, interactive Web applications where they can collaborate and exchange information. All they have to know is what the Web interface will look like — back-end development is automatic.

“For example, one can easily build applications to track sales leads, manage employee recruiting and hiring — or set up intramural sports leagues,” Papakonstantinou told the E-Commerce Times.

As for his definition of “Web 2.0”: It “refers to Web-based services that emphasize online collaboration and information exchange by user communities.”

Different Themes, Definitions

Nailing down the meaning of “Web 2.0” has proven to be an exercise in dealing with the unexpected.Part 1 of this two-part series offers definitions gleaned from an informal survey of tech and content executives. They touched upon such issues as community, personalization, customization and editorial control.

They mentioned the tools behind Web 2.0 as well. “Two of the hallmarks [of Web 2.0] are more fluid desktop-type interfaces and emphasizing online collaboration among users,” said Paddy McCobb, creative director for Boston-area branding and design studio Corey McPherson Nash.

To that end, he told the E-Commerce Times, a number of technologies are widely used, such as wikis, RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, Web APIs (application programming interfaces) and Ajax.

The execs surveyed also commented on the functionality these tools ultimately provide to end-users.

“Web 2.0 is about service providers exposing their business services on the Web — bringing them together in a common view for the employee and under a common management umbrella for the corporation,” Rearden Commerce CEO Patrick Grady told the E-Commerce Times.

“It’s a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, where employees or customers have all the useful features in one place that they need to do their jobs more effectively and make smart choices,” he remarked, “but where the corporation still has the ability to control and manage what’s being offered.”

Gone are the days when you had to wait weeks or months for new features to be added into an application, Grady continued.

“It took Microsoft more than five years to develop Vista, yet the software was already obsolete within weeks of delivery,” he claimed. “An advanced Web 2.0 architecture provides the opportunity to add or remove services and vendors on a fluid, real-time basis with just a few clicks of a mouse.”

Mind Candy?

The survey also brought out the lighter side of Web 2.0 — or, at least, indications that the term is becoming overused and overhyped.

“Web 2.0 is a waste of time,” contended Kevin Walker, CEO of SimpleTuition, which provides online tools to research, review and compare multiple loan options from a variety of lenders.

“More specifically, it’s about wasting time,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “A lot of people killing time watching inane videos. A lot of people killing time with dumb-dumb blog entries. A lot of people killing time complaining about their stay at some random Holiday Inn.”

It’s also about a modern look: “Oversized type in gray or gray-scale colors. Self-contained widgets that fancy up a site. User-generated ratings. Ajax platforms. These are the sorts of characteristics that just scream ‘2.0,’” said Walker.

“I’m all for mind candy and the occasional rant from some random person, but life’s too short,” he complained. “Let’s move on to Web 3.0 — where entrepreneurs and techie creatives and the press and consumers focus on ways to conduct business online that is productive, not a waste of time.”

Miki Dzugan of Rapport Online was only slightly less harsh. “Ever since the term was coined, I’ve been inclined to say, ‘Web 2.0 is Web 1.0 for dummies,'” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The first Web sites included discussion groups and personal journals known as “Web logs,” she explained. Then came corporate Web sites and advertising agencies — all with print or broadcast media background trying to run the Web like a broadcast medium.

“They fell on their butts, and the Internet boom turned to bust,” Dzugan wryly observed.

“With more broadband capability, bigger PC capacities and better tools for content management [such as] blog software and photo/video sharing tools, online sharing is bigger than ever. Agencies have finally discovered this ‘new’ idea that the Web is a place for consumer-generated content, and they call it ‘Web 2.0,'” she said.

“Maybe someday soon they will discover that advertising that is consistent with how a Web site is being used is more effective than the print or TV-style interruption advertising. They’ll probably call that ‘Web 3.0.'”

The term is becoming grossly overused, agreed Tim Shisler, a marketing executive based in Los Gatos, Calif. — and who better to know? He can’t resist taking pot shots at the worst cliches.

“Web 2.0 is the phenomenon where everyone thinks they are important, sorority girls post picture of themselves in thongs, high school boys take bong hits out of Apples on YouTube, and kids are stupid enough to ‘fall in love’ with Imreally13 on AIM,” Shisler sneered.

On second thought, professor Papakonstantinou’s online intramural soccer team sounds like a perfectly sober example of Web 2.0 at work.

Web 2.0, Part 1: The Definition Dilemma

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