What the Hell Does Web 2.0 Mean, Anyway?

Just what does “Web 2.0” mean, anyway, and why should a CIO care? A lively debate on those subjects is playing out on any number of blogs, appropriately enough, and on other Web sites, too. The benefits are supposed to include faster development and deployment of software, better information-sharing among a broad range of parties, and a general centrality of the Internet to business processes. But just agreeing on the concept is still tough to do.

Appending “2.0” to the latest version of anything tech-related—a form lifted from the numbering of software releases—has long since become a cliché, so it was no great surprise when the technology publisher O’Reilly Media Inc. last year began pushing “Web 2.0” as a catchall for a set of user-driven applications (blogs, wikis, RSS feeds), companies and organizations (Google Inc., Wikipedia, Napster LLC) and the philosophy that guides them all. Company Chief Executive Tim O’Reilly includes everything from software written with Ajax to the method of “tagging” information in plain language in order to make it easier to find on the Web.

ZDNet blogger Russell Shaw argues, however, that the concept is so broad as to be meaningless, and that the overarching slogan is “a contrivance, meant to imply a unified movement or wave toward a better Web. Just the very numbering of the thing brings out my moo-goo detector.”

But the idea that something’s happening here—and that the way companies use the Web is undergoing more than incremental changes—is one that a lot of people are taking very seriously. Consultant Dion Hinchcliffe put it in a context with which CIOs are familiar: “Is Web 2.0 actually the most massive instance possible of service-oriented architecture, realized on a worldwide scale and sprawling across the Web? The answer folks is, apparently so.”

What that means for corporate IT is a new platform for application development and deployment, says Peter Rip, a managing director of venture capital firm Leapfrog Ventures. That sounds good, although Rip didn’t exactly translate the business benefits of that into plain English. Spurred by Hinchcliffe’s analysis, Rip wrote at his blog, EarlyStageVC, “The innovation at the edge is going to wash into the Enterprise. And when it does, we’re going to see IT Departments finally see a platform shift worth making. The potential losers are the legacy vendors with their ‘software mainframes.’ The winners will be the companies that package componentized functionality with light, maybe even non-procedural, methods of stitching together flexible Web applications quickly.” If jargon is the measure of enterprise-ready software, then this Web 2.0 stuff may be good to go.

Clearly, there’s a certain amount of smoke and hype around the whole Web 2.0 concept. But just as clearly, we’re talking about something more than PR blogs and workplace wikis here. The next Web is coming to the enterprise, and CIOs have to start getting their minds around it now.

Story Guide:

Web 2.0 Reality Check

  • Supercharging the IT-Business Relationship
  • Making the Web Play Well With Others
  • Too Many Blogs Spoil the Party
  • What the Hell Does Web 2.0 Mean, Anyway?
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