So are you going to add some Web 2.0 into our products, they asked as we were discussing our involvement with a potential client over coffee at a nearby cafe. We really don’t know how to answer that when someone quizzes us on our Web 2.0 platter for them since they want to tell everyone that they have a Web 2.0 product. Well, cant blame them Web 2.0 is still such a difficult thing to comprehend for a lot of people. Of course you can always give examples of what Web 2.0 is as you see them; on the technology side things like Ajax, Rich Internet Application (RIA) and their supporting frameworks, JSON, Web Services, Open APIs and data sharing; on the collaborative side wikis, blogs, forums and social networking. Web 2.0 is also about clear, simple design with a purpose than to decorate approach, which often means very little designer job and a lot of information architecture influence on the final look and feel of the product or site.
If you really think about it, a lot of these things have existed since the beginning of the web in one way or the other. The XMLhttpRequest object which brought us AJAX (where X stands for XML because someone named it that and it still holds that identity even when most have moved away from XML to JSON and other light weight data transfer models) was not added newly to browsers and was shipped with Internet Explorer 5 as in March 1999 and was used by Outlook Web Access, even before Google came out with its Gmail app and created its mark on the Web 2.0 hemisphere. To put perspective to that, the host of technology that exist today that lend shoulder to this new web have been there since Web 1.0. The only language that the web understands across all computers, browsers and countries even today is HTML 4.0. The new age web browsers are quickly adopting HTML 5.0 but it will be a while before this comes to play.
In a way Web 2.0 is really about a change in attitude and not about technology at all, its about a shift from the traditional publisher vs consumer model to a more dynamic publishing model where the consumer is also a publisher of content for other consumers. The perfect example of this is the collaborative nature of Wikipedia and its ability to generate tons of content which are verifiable across domains by other users. It literally put to rest the models followed by Encyclopedia and MSN Encarta which would aggregate content by hiring specialists in various domains to provide write ups and which would only get updated once in a couple of years. Wikipedia on the contrary is ever expanding as well as an up to-date encyclopedia of everything, so nothing has really changed right, only the approach, the support system and the collaborative knowledge sharing really helped build Wikipedia.
When we work on ideas for application design to see where Web 2.0 techniques (not technology) can be applied, we feel it has to be carefully addressed keeping in mind the nature of the product and the people accessing it. Many times the same people who want to sugar coat their product in Web 2.0 want nothing to do with wikis, networking, blogging build into it but want only the technology side like Ajax enabled, RIA application, access to open data access whereas they themselves build their applications around closed walls. Only if they themselves support API access and allow others to collaborate will it really see much value add. Google maps allows you to call its API to plot maps of your own, facebook allows you access to its APIs to find the users social circle and so on helping build smarter and collaborative applications.
So is just RIA any good without the collaborative part? Is there a need to strike a right balance here. The concepts or principles of Web 2.0 are simple to comprehend but very difficult to design if the change in attitude is not there, not wanting to let go of the control as a publisher or owner of certain pieces of data. If used strategically it can revolutionize your product beyond what you hoped for. For one, a lot of people are scared about opening up their products for access feeling that it would be misused. The take away from all products worthy of use, is that they have been abused before they are used. So till the attitudes really change when it comes to product development for a large majority of domains that can still benefit from the social networking effect or collaborative content generation along with RIA utilities to fully use Web 2.0 concepts we may only end up making pseudo web 2.0 or maybe just pure Rich Internet Applications.
So to answer the question, we will serve a cup of Web 2.0, with cookies on the side.