The real story behind Web 2.0

At least the people who market technology products and services have some variety in their work. This year, for example, instead of slapping service-oriented architecture stickers on all their products, they get to slap on Web 2.0 stickers instead.

A few weeks ago Oracle announced a Web Center Suite that would allow corporations to integrate blogs, wikis and RSS feeds into their enterprise applications. At the Web 2.0 conference this week, Intel surprised a lot of people by partnering with another firm to launch a software bundle (yes, you heard me) called Suite two that will do the same thing. Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen and Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie were also ready to perform on cue at the event, reportedly pledging their commitment to advancing social networking products into the enterprise.

It all must seem kind of funny to Tim O’Reilly, the publisher and researcher who coined the Web 2.0 term and who recently wrote an update to the original definition he offered for it. Despite all the hype and all the press, he said he still gets asked by a lot of companies on what it really means. The one thing that was clear in the lengthy essay he first published about a year ago is that it is not simply blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. Intel, Oracle and other firms are trying to determine what the Web 2.0 “stack” is while many people are still hard at work building the pieces.

According to O’Reilly, Web 2.0 is a way of describing patterns in software design and business models around certain transactional services (some of which may not even be online). Vendors could in some way be helping establish a sort of Web 2.0 canon of products by choosing the best known applications, but the Web 2.0 philosophy – which is in fact what it is – emphasizes that platforms are more important than applications. By platform O’Reilly and others are referring to a set of protocols based on open standards and agreements for co-operation. Web 2.0 is a way of creating a playing field for developing innovative applications. It’s not a bundle of features.

Perhaps the effort to productize Web 2.0 is a way for vendors to prove their relevancy to customers, though that’s unlikely given that there are still many boring, run-of-the-mill data centre headaches they have yet to solve.

More likely it is a way of catching the eye of developers who would see hardware platforms like Intel’s and software platforms like Oracle’s as a welcome place for their engineering talent. Even if blogs, wikis and RSS feeds don’t generate any money in and of themselves, they give developers a chance to play that could translate into interest in other elements of these vendors’ technology toolsets.

It’s possible that by having established firms offer Web 2.0 packages enterprise companies will be quicker to adopt these technologies. What the packages don’t offer, however, are any advice on how best to use them. Even as they try to make blogs and wikis look more standardized, vendors won’t be able to solve the social, legal and inter-departmental problems that can creep in once you’ve created a more collaborative online environment. No doubt there are plenty of VARs willing to advise companies on how they should use Web 2.0, but since those technologies don’t necessarily generate new revenue the question is how many CEOs will be willing to pay for that kind of expertise.

Instead, we might see attendance for the Web 2.0 conference grow, orO’Reilly might enjoy strong sales for his recently-published Web 2.0 best practices guide. But reading a report? Travelling for in-person meetings?

Sounds kind of Web 1.0 to me.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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