Decoding Web 2.0: The Next Evolution of Web sites


Published: October 25, 2007

What is Web 2.0? It’s a question that many people are asking with the growth of the online industry these days. The cause of the confusion is due to the disputes about what Web 2.0 actually is. There is no one Web site that shows what Web 2.0 is; there are even people who say that what we call Web 2.0 is not yet the next level of the Internet. The most common idea behind Web 2.0 is that the next evolution of Web sites won’t use completely new technology but will be constructed differently. Most Web 2.0 sites provide free content, give the users their own space on the Web site, and the users can then interact with one another. Assuming that Web 2.0 is the next step for the Internet, I’ll give a few examples of Web sites that demonstrate the main features of  Web 2.0.

We take it for granted, but Wikipedia is an example of how the functionality of the Internet has transformed. Wikipedia is a free resource that anyone can view or contribute to. According to its Web site, there are currently 2,046,617 articles in Wikipedia. Sure, you can’t write an academic essay citing Wikipedia, since the information is not always credible, but it’s still an amazing source of information on pretty much anything. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the War of 1812 or if you missed what happened in the first ten minutes of last night’s episode of “Chuck”, then Wikipedia will have it. Unlike most other Web 2.0 sites though, Wikipedia does not have the sort of social aspect found in others. Something like gives you a profile page where you can put up information about yourself and befriend other people who have profiles. Wikipedia does not have this because all articles are submitted anonymously. The best part is that it’s not a corporation of people in suits putting up this information, nor is it a hardcore programmer; it’s an average person. A fan of a particular subject is going to work harder and go more in-depth about something that they love than the person paid to do it.

The Web is a really big place filled with lots of great Web sites but to get to them, you have to go through even more mediocre Web sites. has devised a solution to this problem. Users join and put in their preferences for Web sites: sports, technology, blogs or anything else. They can then submit Web sites that they find interesting and share them with the other users. So if you find someone who shares similar interests with you, then you can add them as a friend and you’ll get links to the Web sites that they submit. You can even download a stumbleupon button, for the web browser Firefox, that allows you to access a random Web site that fits the criteria that you entered. You can also use it to save Web sites that you think someone else might like.

Google has many features that are considered Web 2.0. According to programmer and tech essayist Paul Graham’s Web site (that only a super nerd like Bill Gates could understand),, “Web 2.0 means using the web as it was meant to be used, and Google does. That’s their secret. They’re sailing with the wind, instead of sitting becalmed praying for a business model, like the print media, or trying to tack upwind by suing their customers, like Microsoft and the record labels.” Signing up for something like Gmail not only entitles the user to a mail client but it also gives them a calendar, a spreadsheet creator, document creator and a variety of other features. They give you your own space to create content and have ownership over it. Google has been one of the pioneers in allowing people to have something similar to an operating system in their web browser. Instead of using Microsoft Word, you can use Google Docs. The look and feel of this document utility is not as clean as Microsoft Word, but it’s free and is a step in the right direction.

What stumbleupon does for Web sites, Pandora does for music. Put in the names of songs and bands that you like and Pandora finds it and other music that you also might like. This is all done through online radio, meaning that it is 100 percent free and legal. There is a paid version  ($36 per year) of Pandora that cuts out the online ads and lets you listen to the service on your Sprint cell phone, but other than that, you get everything that you would want in the free version. However, there is less of a focus on the social aspect of Pandora. You can leave messages for other members and add them to your friends list to see what music they like, but that’s about it. Fortunately, the depth of the music system they offer makes up for it. Give a “thumbs up” to what you like, a “thumbs down” to what you don’t, and Pandora will find music that suits your taste. This is all part of something called “The Music Genome Project,” which tries to show the correlation of different songs beyond their artist and genre. Through this, people can find new music that they may like and help Pandora figure out what patterns can be seen in different songs. You can also bookmark what you like or click a link to buy it straight through iTunes after you listen to it, making it even easier to start enjoying new music.