Technology

So before we go into Web 1.0, or 2.0, what’s this web thing? I take the web to refer to a particular type of content and traffic on the Internet, but I’m maybe a bit of an old-timer. Initially, you could probably safely say that the web meant web pages, documents written in hypertext markup language (HTML), and viewed in a web browser – NCSA Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, etc. Over time though, the HTML language evolved, and more and more elaborate content was possible. Web browsers, and the “rendering engines” that really drive them, became capable of interpreting more and more types of content – markup languages like XML and audio and images, and their functionality was extended by plugins that could present multimedia content, like Flash or Shockwave.

So, loosely, you can maybe summarize Web 1.0 as being our first foray into knowing what’s possible within this “web” medium. While conceptually this whole Internet thing started out as a means for a bunch of scholarly types to share information with each other, the “first” iteration of the web can really be said to have been dominated by content creators (as opposed to collaborators like we’ll start seeing in a minute in Web 2.0).

While there were some notable exceptions, like say Geocities or Angelfire, Web 1.0 wasn’t really such an accessible thing for Everyone. Being able to create content and get it onto the web meant familiarity with a programming language, and having a grasp of file transfer protocol so you could get your stuff where it needed to be, and of having access to authoring software in many cases so that you could create your content.

In a sense, you could say that it was sort of antithetical to the original intent of the web, in that we sort of wound up patterning it after our other broadcast media, like television or radio. It became a means for content creators to reach information consumers, rather than connecting a bunch of collaborators on an even footing. Search engines allowed people to more readily find what was “out there”. Portals allowed people to customize their web browsing, and tailor their homepage to feature content relevant to them. Services like AOL or CompuServe or Prodigy made a specialty of simplifying and aggregating content, as well as packaging their software with the Internet access required to get to it. But in all these cases, the content being made was overwhelmingly created by professionals (granted, some were a lot more professional than others… there are wonderful examples all over the place of really terrible web design).

Enter Web 2.0. A really bright guy named Clay Shirky had an interesting thing to say about the development of the Internet. I’m completely butchering this I’m sure, but his essential idea was that the really interesting stuff starts to happen once the medium itself has become boring and commonplace. We’ve got this web thing down now – the Internet itself is nearly as completely ubiquitous as it can be. Really importantly, here, authoring tools have become staggeringly good. Anyone can be a content creator, no special training required, no special software required. You can literally “put yourself out there” in minutes without knowing much of anything about anything.

This blog itself is written in WordPress. The software was installed with the click of a button on a server I’ve never seen, and I haven’t spent even a minute concerning myself with how the software works. It isn’t even a particularly special thing, either – you can accomplish the same thing with Blogger, or Xanga, or Movable Type, or I’m sure many other pieces of software made for blogging.

There are a ton of social networking sites, too – Facebook, Myspace, Linked In or Plaxo, to name a few. All of these allow people to connect with other people, to share information, to post and share various forms of media – photos, videos, name it.

What’s more, there’s more flexibility than ever to share information. Instead of being at the mercy of some portal site to allow the aggregation of all the things you think are interesting, we have syndication now (RSS) to allow people to share their content.

The principle thing I think it’s important to get, in comparing Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, is that Web 1.0 allowed one to reach many. A handful of big commercial websites got millions of hits, and that was the way the model worked. One site – many viewers. Web 2.0 allows many to connect to one, instead of one to many, or even for many to connect to many. Through RSS I can get recent info from as many people as I like, through social networking sites I can create and maintain groups of people with a common interest… the ways to interconnect and share are boundless.