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Web 2.0: Making the Internet an Operating System PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Technology
Tuesday, 13 June 2006 22:59

A couple of years ago, the people who are continually stretching the edge of the Internet envelope began talking about Web 2.0. Wikipedia, the user-created encyclopedia, defines Web 2.0 as "a term often applied to a perceived ongoing transition of the World Wide Web from a collection of Web sites to a full-fledged computing platform serving Web applications to end users. Ultimately Web 2.0 services are expected to replace desktop computing applications for many purposes."

That's happening.

Google is leading the way with a growing suite of applications that cut the tether that ties you to your personal machine. The most ubiquitous app in the portfolio is GMail. Fast becoming the most popular mail solution on the web, GMail provides more than 2.5 gigs of Web-based mail storage and a robust user interface that groups the back-and-forth that's often part and parcel of an e-mail conversation into a single clickable link.

The GMail dashboard also incorporates Google's Instant Messenger, Google Talk. You no longer are required to load software to IM a friend, and if they have a GMail address, they are automatically messenger-enabled. The only downside of Google Talk is a lack of interoperability with AOL's Instant Messenger, still by far the most popular IM on the Internet.

Both Google and Yahoo offer free calendar applications that can host your events and activities. While Google has the better interface to my eyes, Yahoo still has more flexibility, including being able to synchronize data with your PDA or Blackberry.

We can share our photo albums over the Internet with easy-to-use applications such as Flickr. And innovative new-media companies such as Ruckus (http://www.ruckusnetwork.com) are taking the iTunes concept a step further, making it possible for us to share our favorite music, legally.

And now comes the spreadsheet. The required tool for every businessperson who ever contemplated a mathematical formula used to be Microsoft's Excel, or the free Open Office Calc application. Google just announced a beta of a spreadsheet product and almost instantly thereafter, Dan Bricklin, the man who invented VisiCalc, told us he's licensed his Web-based WikiCalc to Social Text.

The huge advantage of a hosted spreadsheet is the ability to have multiple people view and modify the data, without the "e-mail volleyball" of megabytes that happens when we send those big numeric reports from cubicle to cubicle.

Even our browser home page has become a Web 2.0 application. NetVibes.com uses the hot new Ajax programming language to give you the ability to completely customize a Web based home page, filling multiple tabs with search boxes, weather graphics, news, and the growing mounds of content that are available via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds.

A note to our local media mavens. Get your RSS act together and quick. As I surf the Quad Cities news organizations, there's not nearly enough RSS content available. I'd love to be able to drop local news headlines or a list of my favorite columnist's most recent tomes into my NetVibes home page. Content aggregation via RSS makes it much more likely that a surfer will click-through to a story, compared to having to remember to work through a browser's bookmarks.

Web 2.0's importance is twofold. First, we can take our favorite applications and content anywhere. We can access our suite of software from work, from home, or at the home of a friend. That's a powerful benefit.

But Web 2.0 is a major step in the direction of a more subtle trend: the increasing control the consumer has over content and messaging. In the days before cable TV, the three networks held sway. We had just three viewing choices and could consume video content only via the television. Then came cable with its burgeoning number of channels. And now, with the iPod explosion comes the on-demand expectation. At Medaicom, our on-demand products are among our most popular. And one only has to visit ABC.com to see how easy it is to watch Lost online, on an iPod, or even on your cell phone.

Ultimately, end users will decide what content they want and will be able to consume that content on the device of their choice, on-demand. And that's a fundamental shift that will dramatically change a lot of media business models.

Taking our toolboxes with us wherever we go is the goal. The growing number of Web 2.0 applications is empowering the connected generation to do just that.



Scott Westerman is the region vice president at Mediacom and writes extensively on new media and technology.


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