What Is Web 2.0, Anyway?
At the O'Reilly Media Conference back in 2004 the Web 2.0 rumble began. For years later, it is going full swing, confusing the masses and being flung around with little to no understanding about what it actually stands for. Often used to describe social bookmarking sites, blogs and interactive forums, this explanation only covers half of the truth. Like the World Wide Web when it first appeared, Web 2.0 is like an amorphous entity that is ever changing.
Essentially, Web 2.0 is a communication tool via the web. It allows readers and clients on a particular site to contribute to the site. One of the best examples of Web 2.0 is Britannica Online and Wikipedia. While Britannica is a static resource, in that it was written by authorities and must be updated on the administrator side only. It is both comprehensive and authoritative. It is also unchangeable by visitors to the site. Wikipedia, is the complete opposite of Britannica, user-generated and user-maintained. One might, as a result, consider that Wikipedia would be considered a lesser reference source.
In truth, however, Wikipedia is a better reference source than Britannica - not because the articles are more accurate, but rather because they direct the reader toward a variety of other resources, representing a multitude of viewpoints and not just the one of the single initial author. This is immensely powerful.
You can look at Web 2.0 as the evolution of that idea, harnessing the knowledge of the users to create a more comprehensive repository than a single writer alone could create. Blogs have comments, social networks have links and conversations, Google AdSense targets ads to user preferences while the old DoubleClick system displayed ads without consideration of the viewer or the context of the page.
How can these concepts benefit you and your business?
You must change the way you think in order to adapt to the new Internet, join the conversation in order to work with it. You can no longer trap an audience on a static website and simply expect them to stay and listen to your proselytizing to them. Those days are past. Instead, you need to embrace the new way to capture potential clients and encourage existing clients to return. You will need to engage them with your content, tools and media. Customers will want a voice and community-building is a must not matter what you're selling.
This can be as simple as implementing a blog with comments that you the writer reply to, or as complex as creating your own new application - interactive games, uploadable media, public customer tips. Don't make the mistake of looking at this as user-generated content; instead, create compelling content that your users want to add to. Ideally, you want the Mona Lisa on your site - with watercolors and markers available so your customers can make their own doodles to finish it out.
If your small business does not have the resources to create this, you have a different option: become a respected member of an online community, or multiple communities, built around the applications of others. Do you have expertise in selling on eBay? Share it freely in comments at eBay blogs you frequent. Selling your own handmade baby slings? Help young parents in a parenting forum. Every time you post, include a link somewhere discreet to your own website (the signature area or designated website link, in most cases). As your personal reputation goes up, people get curious. You'll find opportunities to slip information about your business into other conversations. Eventually, the give-and-take of Web 2.0 will start to work for you.
Published March 25th, 2008