What Does 'Web 2.0' Even Mean?

How Web 2.0 Completely Changed Society

Web 2.0
Photo © aluxum / Getty Images

Web 2.0 has been a term that's been used often and all over the place the early to mid-2000s.

In reality though, there's not one clear definition of Web 2.0, and like many concepts, it has taken on a life of its own. But one thing is clear: Web 2.0 had marked fundamental change in how we use the Internet.

Web 2.0 represented the move toward a more social, collaborative, interactive and responsive web. It served as a marker of change in the philosophy of web companies and web developers. Even more than that, Web 2.0 was a change in the philosophy of a web savvy society as a whole.

Both the change in how society functions as well as the internet as an existing form of technology are part of Web 2.0. In the early days of the web, we used it as a tool. Web 2.0 marked an era where we weren't just using the internet as a tool anymore — we were becoming a part of it.

So, what is Web 2.0, you might ask? Well, you could say that it's the process of putting "us" into the web.

Web 2.0 Is a Social Web — Not a Static Web

The idea of human society merging with a network of computers might sound like the bad plot out of a pulp science fiction novel, but it's a fair description of what has happened to our society over the past decade and a half or so.

Not only have we increased our usage of the internet — from how much time we started spending on it at home to how we now carry around a version of it in our pocket — but we have changed the way we interact with it. This has led us to a social web where we aren't just getting information dumped onto us from a computer, because we're now all connected with other people who can put anything they want online that they want to share.

We do this in the form of social media platforms like blogs (Tumblr, WordPress), social networks (Facebook, Instagram), social news sites (Digg, Reddit) and wikis (Wikipedia). The common theme of each of these websites is human interaction.

On blogs, we post comments. On social networks, we make friends. On social news, we vote for articles. And, on wikis, we share information.

What is Web 2.0? It is people connecting with other people.

Web 2.0 Is an Interactive Internet

These ideas of bringing the power of people directly into the internet wouldn't be possible without the technology to support it. For the collective knowledge of people to be harnessed, websites must be easy enough to use that they don't stand in the way of people using the internet to share their knowledge.

So, while Web 2.0 is about creating a social web, it is also about creating a more interactive and responsive web. It is in this way that methodologies such as AJAX become central to the idea of Web 2.0. AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous Javascript And XML, allows websites to communicate with the browser behind the scenes and without human interaction. This means you don't have to click on something for the web page to do something.

It sounds simple, but it's not something that was possible in the early days of the web. And what it means is that websites can be more responsive — more like desktop applications — so that they're easier to use.

This allows websites to harness the collective power of people because the more difficult a website is to use, the less people that are willing to use it. So, to truly harness that collective power, websites must be designed to be as simple as possible so as not to get in the way of people sharing information.

What is Web 2.0? It's a version of the internet that's much easier to use.

Putting It All Together

Web 2.0 ideas have taken on a life of their own. They've taken people and put them on the web, and the idea of a social web has transformed the way we think and the way we do business.

The idea of sharing information is being valued as much as the idea of proprietary information. Open source, which has been around for decades, is becoming a significant factor. And the web link is becoming a form of currency.

What About Web 3.0? Are We EvenThere Yet?

It's been a while since the Web 2.0 era began, and now that virtually all of us have grown completely accustomed to a very social web, questions of whether or not we've completely shifted to Web 3.0 have been arising for years now.

To determine that, however, we need to explore what a shift from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 really means. Find out what Web 3.0 is all about and whether we're actually there yet.

Updated by: Elise Moreau