How Web 2.0 Works

Using the Web as a Platform
Vinton Cerf, a Google Vice President, at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, October 2007. Google embodies O'Reilly's vision of a Web 2.0 company.
Vinton Cerf, a Google Vice President, at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, October 2007. Google embodies O'Reilly's vision of a Web 2.0 company.
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

In the blog entry that described his philosophy of Web 2.0, Tim O'Reilly wrote that before the dot-com bubble burst, Web companies like Netscape concentrated on providing a product. In Netscape's case, the product was a Web browser. These products would then serve as the foundation for a suite of applications and other products. O'Reilly's vision of a Web 2.0 company is one that provides a service rather than a product.

The example O'Reilly used in his blog entry was Google. He said that Google's value comes from several factors:

  • It's a multi-platform service. You can access Google on a PC or Mac (using a Web browser) or on a mobile device like a cell phone.
  • It avoids the business model established by the software industry. You don't need to buy a particular software package to use the service.
  • It includes a specialized database of information -- search results -- that seamlessly works with its search engine software. Without the database, the search application is worthless. On the other hand, without the search application, the database is too large to navigate.

Another important part of using the Web as a platform is designing what O'Reilly calls rich user experiences. These are applications and applets -- small programs that fit within a larger program or Web page -- to make Web surfing and accessing the Internet more enjoyable. For example, the service Twitter provides is based off of a very simple concept: Members can send a message to an entire network of friends using a simple interface. But Twitter also allows third-party developers to access part of the Twitter application programming interface (API). This access allows them to make new applications based off the basic features of Twitter. For example, Twitterific is a program for the Mac designed by a third-party developer called the Iconfactory. It integrates the Twitter service into a desktop application for users. While Twitter didn't develop Twitterific, it did give the Iconfactory the information it needed to create the application.

Other sites follow a similar philosophy. In 2007, the social networking site Facebook gave third-party developers access to its API. Before long, hundreds of new applications appeared, using Facebook as a platform. Facebook members can choose from dozens of applications to enhance their browsing experiences.

The service and access a Web site offers is an important part of Web 2.0's philosophy, and it's related to the idea of web democratization. In the next section, we'll look at how ordinary people are interacting with and changing the Internet.

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