The impact of the new Web.
This posting addresses a non-technical question: What has been the impact of this technology our society?
Technological advancement can be very roughly broken into two groups: incremental and radical. Which of these is Web 2.0/3.0? Is it a radical advance?
Consider what highly responsive, multimedia web applications have done for us. They have enabled the development of:
* Wikis: These are web applications that allow us to collaboratively develop sophisticated, easily searchable information bases. These can range from dictionaries for specialized disciplines to vast databases containing DNA information. Data can be vetted by experts and/or challenged by random users.
Everybody knows about Wikipedia, but like blog and bulletin board software, wiki software can be easily installed and configured for deployment on almost any web server, whether it is publicly accessible, or used privately within a corporation or by a professional organization.
* Social networking sites: These are web applications that allow us to actively participate in a myriad of communities based on professional and personal interests. We find work, develop contacts, share music and photographs and video, and develop lifelong collaborations with people we would never have met otherwise.
They are also used by people who are in daily physical contact, but who find they can deepen their relationships by posting personal information on public sites like MySpace and Facebook. The interesting thing about these sites is that new and successful ones keep emerging,
* Tagged content vendor sites: Volunteers and paid individuals can contribute multimedia content and collaboratively tag it, using both freeform and highly sophisticated tagging protocols, such as the sophisticated MPEG-7 standard. (We will look at MPEG-7 in a future posting of this blog.) These include images and sound and video, and many taggers are highly trained professionals who can carefully categorize content according its detailed meaning. This technology makes a vast sea of otherwise-unknown assets available to us. It also makes these assets searchable, thus transforming a completely intractable task into something we easily perform.
In particular, this has radically enhanced the creative power of both professional and hobbyist animators by giving them complex scenery and character components to work with. Check out thoughtequity.com for an example of a content vendor. Take a look at daz3d.com for animation content.
* Mashups: These are portal or second tier web applications that take content from other web sources, such as Google Maps, investment information, medical advice, and scientific data. Often mashups take data from several or hundreds of other sites and create complex, highly valuable multimedia assets.
Take a look at woozor.com. It combines Google map and weather data.
* Distance learning: Universities, corporations, professional organizations, and lone instructors can develop and sell effective, multimedia educational packages that bring education to anyone who has Internet access. This allows us to retrain ourselves for new occupations, stay current in our professional skills, and find employment that is satisfying, steady, and high paying.
I teach on my university’s distance learning site, and we use video, sound, desktop video capture, slide presentations, and software demonstrations – and they can all be edited into a unified product. There are online universities now, where you can get a college degree. Take a look at jonesuniversity,com.
* Hybrid applications that support things like email, calendar, collaboration, RSS feeds, etc.
A good example of a hybrid application is zenbe.com, which provides a combined web-based email, list making, and calendar application, and in that sense is similar to many other email providers. But Zenbe also provides a collaborative tool called Zenbe Pages, which can be used by collaborators to organize their activities. A Zenbe page can have notes, calendars, lists, RSS feeds (not new ones, but existing RSS feeds) on them. Zenbe also provides quick access to Twitter, Google Talk, and Facebook.
By the way, it’s important to point out that the categories I list above are not as clear-cut as one might think. Many modern web apps contain elements from more than one of these categories.
The software building blocks.
From a programming perspective, what specific Web 2.0/3.0 software has allowed all of this to come about? We’ve discussed much of this already in previous postings of this blog. It includes XML and the exploding class of XML languages, namespaces, IDE’s (Integrated Development Environments), large code bases (such as the vast library of ready-made Java components), web service software development tools, and AJAX web page optimization technology. It also includes web development frameworks like Ruby on Rails, and newer ones, engineered toward high responsiveness, like Flex and Silverlight.
Also included are powerful media formats, codecs, players, and editors, which allow web users to do more than upload and search media; we can edit it and reform video, images, and sound, without leaving the simple world of our browsers. And of course, modern mega media apps enable us to build media assets. The list of contributing software tools goes on, but we’ll stop here.
And there is something subtle, but important that gives advanced web technology extraordinary power: it scales. We manage shared resources that are truly gigantic in size, and are spread across countless machines around the world. We leverage global user bases, cheap server technology, and wide open Internet bandwidth to give media stores belonging to Web apps astonishing growth rates.
The bottom line.
Yep. Web 2.0/3.0, as a whole, is a truly radical advancement. It has fundamentally and globally changed society in a big way.