Web 2.0

New technologies are allowing developers to produce applications that run via the Web, yet look and feel like traditional software applications. The next generation of the Internet is being called Web 2.0, let’s have a glimpse at what’s coming.

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The Internet is impacting our lives in ways we never imagined, and it has done so in a relatively short time frame. You can research and find an answer to virtually any question imaginable; you can make travel reservations or restaurant reservations; sell your unwanted stuff; and, even find someone compatible to date. If you are a shop looking for work, machine tools, tooling or employees, that’s no problem either. There is virtually nothing you can’t do or find on the Web. But the Web and what it can do for you and your business is still in the embryonic stage. It has been speculated that in the early 1980s Bill Gates said eight megabytes of memory was all anyone would ever need. Today we have thousands of times more memory in a gigabyte in our PCs alone. The statement seems ridiculous today, but very believable then.

We are well into what is termed Web 2.0 and moving rapidly towards 3.0. Web 1.0 was the era where Web sites were a collection of pages linking to each other and to pages on other sites. Web 1.0 was an era where content was king and people rushed to put as much information as they could online. People would read the content, but not interact with it.

There is no definition of Web 2.0, but in general it refers to Web sites that do more than just serve up content, they let users interact with the content. They leverage their community of users to generate or perfect the content and they are generally more like software applications than Web sites.

Great examples of Web 2.0 sites are Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, CraigsList and MFG.com. Amazon.com’s book and product reviews by users are a Web 2.0 example where the community is being leveraged to help vet products. I know when I am interested in purchasing something on Amazon.com, the first thing I do is scroll down and read the reviews.

There is another wave of Web innovation just getting started that is important for you to know about because it is going to be very disruptive to traditional software applications. Today when you buy a software application you get a CD or maybe you download it and once you install it on your computer, you can buy upgrades as they become available, perhaps once or twice a year. This is often called shrink wrapped software.

Applications are increasingly becoming available online on an on-demand basis. In part this is due to new tools that developers have to create rich internet applications (RIAs). A few examples of RIAs are Writely.com, which allows you to do most everything you would with Microsoft Word. Google also has an application simply called Spreadsheet that gives you Excel-like functionality. The real difference is that both Writely and Spreadsheet are free. There is no software to install, never any upgrades to buy and you can access the applications from any computer as long as you have access to the Internet.

Not all on-demand applications are or will be free. There has to be a business model behind it. Software developers and servers cost a lot of money and have to be funded somehow. Moving forward, the software will be much less expensive than applications you buy today. This is in large part because of the efficiencies on-demand models provide software developers. For example, just think about all the money they save just by not having to produce CDs, package them and ship them. Another huge benefit is that upgrades are instant, as soon as the new code is uploaded to the Web server, everyone instantly gets the new version.

Some would claim that software such as CAD/CAM software is too processor-intensive to be a good candidate for an on-demand application. For now that may be true. But hey, 20 years ago, we never thought we would be using PCs with one gigabyte of memory did we?