Welcome to the Web - Version 2.0

Open upon a time there were books, and other sorts of printed materials. It took a long time to find things out, because you had to read all the pages. And that was assuming you could get a copy of a book.

And then along came the Internet, and the World Wide Web. Web Version 1.0 was great. It allowed us to find things that we couldn't before. Checking details and prices on things we wanted to buy became a lot easier, although of course we could find ourselves browsing all day long, and no coffee and cake shop midway to provide a treat. And sometimes it was just slow, or tedious, or we couldn't quite work out where the information was, because the site we were viewing was difficult to use. And the pages loaded slowly, which made the whole checkout process a bore.

And then someone decided that there was a better way of browsing the web. You still use the same old web browser, but somehow web sites just got better. Take finding a map, or getting directions. In the Web Version 1.0, you typed in the postcode, and up came a map. Wow! But if you wanted to zoom in or out or move the map around, you would click a button, and the whole page would reload in the new position (and sometimes not). In Web 2.0, you now click on the map, and drag! Just like a piece of paper. And you can zoom in and out, and drag some more, and go down to almost infinite detail, and even overlay the thing with satellite images (which probably has little purpose, but does make you go 'wow, how'd they do that!'). I'm talking about Google Maps, but they weren't the first to show you Web 2.0 in action, but are perhaps one of the most notable. And now everyone's doing it.

Notably, web companies are now starting to provide access to their information through a programmatic interface, or web-service. What this means to you the user is that you'll see new types of website, where different types of information are aggregated together. People call these 'mashups', where information from service 'a' is mixed with service 'b' to provide a new way of understanding or visualising the information. For example, with the Google Maps example above, you can now plot houses for sale, pubs and restaurants, traffic conditions and the like, all on a very usable and clear map. It's like the first time someone put jam on a piece of bread and made a sandwich. 1+1 sometimes equals more than 2.

Does it make it better? That's a tough question and I'm inclined to think of it as evolution rather than revolution. The techniques used to make this particular bit of magic are nothing new, but its taken time for the web wizards to put it into something that makes sense. You'll see lots more Web 2.0 techniques appearing on your favourite websites, and sometimes you won't notice they are there, but you'll notice that there are less complete page loads to complete an action, things will perhaps change subtly before your eyes, and you'll find the web a better, easier place to use.

The 20th century has seen relatively few true inventions, just continual refinements of already understood techniques. What the Web is doing today is encouraging collaboration and innovation on a global scale, with few physical or political boundaries to limit people's imagination. That will help accelerate the pace of change, and the usefulness of all sorts of things around us. How long till Web 3.0 arrives I wonder, and what will it do?