The web has evolved into an interactive, personalised, programmable medium. Here's how you can benefit
The next-generation internet, sometimes called Web 2.0 or even Web 3.0, is a slippery concept, perhaps because it is both a technological and a social phenomenon.
The technology is easier to explain. The advent of fast internet connections at home, work and from mobile devices, means that personal computing is no longer just about a beige box on a desk.
Today, it is about being able to access your data from anywhere, and perform tasks such as writing documents or analysing figures, without caring where the application you’re using is running.
It’s also about harnessing the vast array of internet resources in ways that are useful. The company that has done most to enable this revolution is Google, whose clever algorithms and seemingly inexhaustible scalability enable it to answer many of our questions nearly instantly. If the internet is the computer, Google is its user interface.
In this new era, the data is in the internet ‘cloud’ and the user is on the move. Software needs to be highly adaptable, preferably working across multiple devices with minimal installation hassles. To help this happen, software architects have come up with the notion of ‘software as a service’.
Where once it was assumed that web applications were a poor, clunky second-cousin to smooth, slick desktop software, Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax and Flash have changed all that, bringing the richness of the desktop to the browser.
One of the benefits of this service-based approach is that separate services can be mixed together to create a new application category called a ‘mashup’. The concept is similar to the long-established practice of building software from components, except that in this case the components are all services with their own data streams.
Sites such as Netvibes or Windows Live Spaces allow users to construct personal portals, assembling data from multiple sources into a single personalised website.
So much for the technology; but what about the social aspect? A key factor in the growth of such systems is that authoring web content is no longer technically demanding. The web has become participative, just as its inventor Tim Berners-Lee originally envisaged. The implications are far-reaching.
Publisher and web guru Tim O’Reilly observed in an article that Web 1.0 was the era of Britannica Online, and Web 2.0 the era of Wikipedia. The public relations industry is in a spin trying to figure out how to manage business publicity in a world of 70 million blogs, where purchasing decisions are now based more on user reviews than vendor blurbs. Web 2.0 is also about collaboration, from open-source projects to virtual meetings.
To put all this into context, let’s look at six key ways to take advantage of the next-generation internet.
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