[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
What is this thing called Web 2.0?
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Crowd taking photographs, AP
Web 2.0 is about giving users tools to do more
It has often been said by industry watchers that time flows faster when it comes to the development of the internet.

Despite this relentless pace of change, few can have forgotten the madness of the dotcom boom times in 2000.

Back then crazy prices were paid for small companies and extravagant claims were made for the way they were about to re-write the rules of so many markets.

In 2006 and 2007 similar amounts of hyperbole and cash are being lavished on innovative net start-ups playing around with Web 2.0 technology, the name given to the second coming of the web.

But has anything changed or are we about to see another crash?

"No," said Klaus Hommels, a venture partner at Benchmark Capital and one of the first investors in Skype. "Now is completely different to 2000."

Democracy in action

The big difference seven years on is that the appeal of the net has been proven.

"There's a little hype now but we do now have a mass market and we did not have that in the past."

Mr Hommels said he was keen to invest in companies that established a "platform" by which he means the basic way to make something new happen.

Skype was a case in point as it helped to establish an easy way - the platform - for people to take and make phone calls across the net.

Prior to Skype, the only ones using net-telephony were large companies which used it to slash their telephone bills. Skype let anyone and everyone join in.

It is this democracy of access that the net allows that is powering the Web 2.0 trend.

Pate de fois gras from The Fat Duck, PA
Sites like TopTable now have large communities of users
Now, many companies which have seen their sites create communities in the last few years are keen to let the members of these ad-hoc groups do more.

One such is TopTable - the net-based restaurant review site which draws on its members to see what they think about London's huge array of eating spots.

The site was founded in 2000 and now has more than 500,000 regular reviewers. Chris Wood, managing director for TopTable, said the company wants to help that community of users get more out of the site - after all they are the ones that make it useful in the first place.

TopTable is introducing tools that, for instance, would let regular users easily add their reviews to their personal blogs or share them more widely.

It will also be adding tools to the reviews themselves so that users can get a better idea about who is reviewing and how much of a gourmand or bon viveur that person is.

Power play

For Tariq Krim, chief executive and founder of NetVibes, Web 2.0 is all about those communities that have sprung up around popular websites.

Initially, he said, sites like NetVibes answered a need that a large number of people realised they had. But now, he said, those emergent communities were starting to drive how the site developed and which new problems it tackled.

Corsica, BBC
Corsicans have helped localise NetVibes for themselves
NetVibes started as way for people to organise news and blog feeds and now it has morphed into a tool that people can use to personalise the way that they use almost any web-based service.

The days when net service firms tried to funnel people through portal pages were over, said Mr Krim. Users were now in charge and were starting to flex their muscle.

"We have a very strong relationship with our user base," he said. NetVibes now has more than 10 million users spread across 150 countries.

Talk time

Although NetVibes sets the broad direction for its development, users dictate the details and, in some cases, do the work of localising the tools for very small communities.

In this way, said Mr Krim, NetVibes was now available in Corsican, Galician and Kosovan versions.

And it is not just web businesses that can do more to engage with their users - even though handing over control can be hard for some old-fashioned firms to accept.

Tamara Littleton, founder of eModeration, which looks after discussion forums and community chat pages for many large firms, said some companies found it hard to let go.

"They know they want to engage with their users or customers and set up spaces to do that," she said. "But if it is too controlled or contrived people will just leave because then it's just a marketing site."

Far better, she said, is giving people a space where people can say what they want - within wide limits.

"The big brands want to know what people are saying and that includes a certain amount of criticism," she said.

"It's going to look more real if you include negative and positive," she said.

Firms start to see the value of this engagement when they realise that it can give insights into how they are perceived and even act as an early warning system for potential problems, all of which would have been very useful during the dotcom bubble.

Inside the Silicon Valley tech bubble
26 Mar 07 |  Technology
Web 2.0 wonders: Zooomr's Kris Tate
28 Mar 07 |  Technology
Web 2.0 wonders: StumbleUpon
29 Mar 07 |  Technology
Web 2.0 wonders: Meebo
27 Mar 07 |  Technology
Web 2.0 wonders: Yelp
30 Mar 07 |  Technology
Web 2.0's 'digital mobs' attacked
22 Feb 07 |  Technology
Web apps tracking users attention
22 Feb 07 |  Technology

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific