Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wake up to Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is the new concept in the World Wide Web which has interested me for quite some time now. As usual it was Balaji who told me about this new thing in the rising, but I really didn’t bother to find more about it then. I just thought that it’s some new scripting language or something. Then I kept on hearing about this and I decided to find about it by doing a Google on Web2.0. Since then I have been hooked on to it and reading about it and also about the new endeavors using Web 2.0 principles.

This is not an exhaustive write up about web 2.0. I’m just trying to talk about it here in my own simple words so that it would help me as well as others who are starters and wanting to know about it in a nut shell - Just to generate the interest.

Is it a new technology?

No. It’s a new concept which can be kept in mind while doing new works on the web. I’m sure that this was also emerged as the need of the hour as once the world had written off the web services as a turkey. But now web is the hottest place to be in and it was never more useful than now. My friend Arun says web has matured and is into something serious now days, though Balaji begs to differ; he says web is still in its adolescence and all what’s happening now is just the beginning.

What is it?

It’s a concept which brought together all the good things on the World Wide Web to make it more useful and usable. I would say, it immensely helps people to Learn about new things, Use them and Spread the word. Web 2.0 has really given shape to extremely useful web applications, market them over the web and let people know about them, make them use those applications which gave the user the same experience as they were using a desktop application and more, made the user contribute to the development and gave him a sense of belonging and made him talk about it and spread the word. The best example for this phenomenon is Gmail.

What does it say?

Like many important concepts, Web 2.0 doesn't have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core. You can visualize Web 2.0 as a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from that core.
  • Web based Services, not desktop applications on PC Platform, which are constantly scalable cost effectively. All information kept online and accessible from anywhere using internet. No installations, No local data, No heavy duty models. The web platform also allows the service to be used on more than a single device.
  • Harnessing Collective intelligence by sharing information among the community. By achieving this everybody on the web become rich in knowledge which enables them to know about new techniques, products, services, news and study material and the community grows organically. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia based on the unlikely notion that an entry can be added by any web user, and edited by any other and seen by anyone who needs information about something. Del.icio.us is a social book marking service where a user can save all his favourite websites and can share it with others. So there is more chances of you getting a good site on Web2.0 or Ajax in Del.icio.us than search engines, because what you get are the pages which the community members book marked as their favourites. Flickr is a photo management service which allows sharing photos among the online community. It also allows permanent links which allows them to use the picture as it is in some other location like news or blogs, commenting and user participation to make it more interactive and interesting, and the best of all - tagging the pictures with keywords to make it more searchable. One of the most highly touted features of the Web 2.0 era is the rise of blogging. As you read this blog post, I’m sharing my knowledge with you and you spread the information as well as introduce me to others. All categorized using the tagging or labeling keywords technique which will make them highly retrievable. One of the things that have made a difference is a technology called RSS. RSS allows someone to link not just to a page, but to subscribe to it, with notification every time that page changes. RSS is data rich and are very much useful in feeding food for search engine spiders.
  • End of the Software Release Cycle. Gone were the days when a near perfect software is packed and sent to the desktops and then upgraded in a year’s time or two. To be lean is the new strategy, to go online with only a few but key features and let people use it, make them hooked on to it, then keep on fixing bugs, fine tune, work on the user interface to make it more rich in user experience and add new features. Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices. Most of the web 2.0 applications are running with the "Beta" logo and likely to be running as it is for a couple of years. There is constant development happening according to the feedback developers get from the users and knowing what they want and rolling out accordingly.
  • Rich internet applications by which the user experience is like the way they used to get while working on a desktop application and more than that. Rich in user experience, but simple interfaces allows a high usability and fast working of the applications. AJAX, Flex, Laszlo and Flash are used to highlight the capabilities of delivering not just multimedia content but also GUI-style application experiences. Gmail was the first to introduce this concept on full scale after which people started taking notice of it and wanting more. Windows Live Local is the latest I used which uses AJAX extensively to give fantastic user experience and fast results.

Think before you leap

It’s all well and for good. But I think there is a big rat race by all the web developers and companies in the world to achieve something or other to claim that it's Web 2.0. Please be sure what you are doing. Don’t just look at joining the bandwagon. Make useful services using all the good things from web 2.0, if you don’t want to use some principles, don’t use it just for the heck of it.

I can see a major abuse of AJAX in some place where it is used to load large amount of text and search results etc. Eg: Start.com. The search results popping up, which is done using AJAX, has major flaws in usability. Also by going with the lean, mean and simple user interface principle, I have found that figuring out features in some of the applications has become an effort which takes lot of time and going around. Eg: Flickr, Del.icio.us and Google Reader. This results in most of the usable features of those applications under-utilised.

Please understand what you want to achieve and work towards it. If you think AJAX is best for achieving the results, use it. But avoid doing things just for name sake. Make it useful.

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