Business starts to hear the ka-ching from Web 2.0

Web 2.0, the new wave of online technology, is a do-it-yourselfer's dream and a collaborator's paradise

The next iteration of the World Wide Web is a do-it-yourselfer's dream and a collaborator's paradise. It lets you tweak, tailor and tune the cyberworld any way you like. It also links you to a community of like-minded surfers.

It's Web 2.0, the new wave of on-line technology.

Web 2.0 is the catch-all descriptor for what is essentially much more dynamic Internet computing. It features a new set of software development tools and technologies -- with names like AJAX, .NET and PHP -- aimed at building websites and applications that can more dynamically share and exchange data and information on-line.

But what is it exactly?

Web 2.0 is no easy thing to explain or to define, but if you've participated in a discussion "blog," contributed to a "wiki," or if you subscribe to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) news and information feeds, then you've already surfed the Web 2.0 wave.

In the world of Web 2.0, you set your own parameters: through a "dashboard" Web page, for example, you can set up active links to on-line communities and information sources. Or you might set up your own personal collection of discussion threads, collections of photographs, and any other cyber-items of interest -- and then reach out to share them with other like-minded surfers.

It's as much a new approach to building and surfing the 'Net as it is a philosophical and social phenomenon. In barely two years of existence, Web 2.0 has rallied a fervent community of commonly interested individuals from around the world who supply their time and insightful content to keep it growing.

But is it a place for business?

"I've read quite a bit about Web 2.0, but am frankly very skeptical of the hype growing up around it," says Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, an on-line IT and business analysis website.

"Using the Web as a collaborative development and distribution platform isn't too far-fetched to me, but the rhetoric around how companies intend to capitalize and make a buck on such a nebulous business model is too reminiscent of the good old days of the Internet boom for my comfort."

Likewise, renowned tech author Nicholas Carr -- a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review whose 2004 book, Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, set off debate about the role of computers in business -- says businesses shouldn't get too excited just yet.

"I don't think there's any reason to be caught up in the hype or to rush ahead in adopting the technologies," he says. "There's little evidence, so far anyway, that Web 2.0 technologies will provide big benefits for companies in general."

But that kind of criticism hasn't slowed the enthusiasm of Web 2.0's supporters. The umbrella Web 2.0 concept was formally unfurled back in October 2004, during a conference in San Francisco. This first-ever Web 2.0 event was a launching point for a new Internet-based model of information sharing, collaboration and publishing.

Among the pioneering speakers who brought Web 2.0 to the fore were heavy-hitters such as chairman Marc Benioff, founder Jeffrey Bezos, 8-bit microprocessor inventor John Doerr, and billionaire and Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

Since then, Web 2.0 applications have been stirring the imagination of regular folk and businesses alike with a much richer and more interactive on-line experience. Andre Charland, president of eBusiness Applications, an application development company, points out that companies such as Nike and Ford Motor are already using Web 2.0 applications such as blogs for marketing and internal communications.

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Dan McLean

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