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

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.

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

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