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How Web 2.0 Works


Democratization of the Web
The Amazon Web site represents some Web 2.0 concepts in features like its customer book reviews.
The Amazon Web site represents some Web 2.0 concepts in features like its customer book reviews.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Web democratization refers to the way people access and contribute to the Internet. Many early Web pages were static, with no way for users to add to or interact with the information. In some ways, many companies thought of the Internet as an extension of television -- browsers would look passively at whatever content the Web provided. Other companies had different ideas, though. For example, Amazon allowed visitors to create accounts and submit book reviews. Anyone could play the role of a literary critic. Before long, other customers were using these reviews to help them decide what books to buy. Amazon's members were helping to shape the browsing experience.

The Web 2.0 philosophy emphasizes the importance of people's interactions with the Internet. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the Web. And, by paying attention to what users are looking for and doing online, a company can provide better service and build customer loyalty. Some Web pages absolutely depend upon user contributions -- without them, there'd be no Web site. Wikis are a good example of this. Users can enter information, modify existing data or even delete entire sections in wikis. Ultimately, the people who visit the Web site determine what it contains and how it looks.

Tim O'Reilly wrote about the importance of harnessing collective intelligence. He stated that the Web sites that are shaped by user contributions will evolve into more superior destinations than other sites. He cited Wikipedia as the perfect example. O'Reilly felt that the community of informed users could monitor and maintain the site. However, since anyone can contribute information to Wikipedia, a person could submit incorrect information either by accident or on purpose. There's no way to guarantee the accuracy of the information, and you can't hold anyone responsible for submitting incorrect information.

Another element of Web democratization is the tag. Web tags are labels that allow users to associate information with particular topics. Many sites allow users to apply tags to information ranging from uploaded images to blog entries. Tags become important when people use search engines. Users can tag their information with search terms, and when another user enters a search term that matches the tag, that information will be listed as a search result. Tagging data makes searching for information faster and more efficient. User-contributed tags are a part of folksonomy, a classification system on the Web.

The last piece of the democratization puzzle is open source software. An open source program is one in which the programmer allows anyone to look at the code he or she used to create the application. And you can do more than just look. Some may allow you to modify the code to make it more efficient or even to create a new program using the original code as a foundation. Ideally, an open source program will receive the best quality assurance testing available because anyone can examine and test it.

But democratization of the Web is just one part of Web 2.0's philosophy. In the next section, we'll look at how Web sites distribute information in a dynamic way.