The best of the new web

The current era of the Web is the read/write Web, says Richard MacManus, Web analyst and blogger

People don’t just passively consume content on today’s Web, they create content and collaborate with each other. Whether it be writing blogs, participating in social networking sites such as MySpace, contributing to wikis, writing book reviews on or buying and selling on Trade Me — the Web leading into 2006 is all about being social and creative.

The challenge for developers and entrepreneurs is to build Web-based communities that encourage users to participate and add value. The term that’s been given to this new era is Web 2.0, which is loosely defined as ‘the Web as platform’.

Google and Yahoo have been leading the charge among the big Internet companies. Google has introduced some groundbreaking Web-based products: both Gmail and Google Maps offer the kind of features and interface normally associated with desktop software. Meanwhile, Yahoo has been busy rebranding itself as a media–technology company. At the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in October 2005, which I attended, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel discussed the importance of user-generated content and community to Yahoo’s business model.

One of the big success stories of the new Web has been Flickr , the photo-sharing website that was acquired by Yahoo in March this year. During 2004 Flickr helped popularise several features that have now become common amongst Web 2.0 services — things like tagging (adding keywords to photos to allow indexing and cross-referencing), syndication and extensibility to allow outside developers to build services on top of Flickr’s platform. Aucklander Charles Coxhead has taken advantage of Flickr’s extensibility to write Delivr , a service using pictures from Flickr that enables users to create their own digital postcards.

Event-sharing services are growing too. They usually offer things like event organisation, publishing, promotion, search, community, calendaring and syndication. Some of the more well-known events apps are (another recent acquisition of Yahoo), Evite , Eventful, Whizspark and a new company unveiled at the 2005 Web 2.0 Conference, Zvents.

Vertical search services are another common area of Web 2.0 activity. These are specialised search engines for a particular niche in the marketplace, such as jobs or travel. What makes them different from earlier Web engines is that they can be extended by users and websites. Two examples of vertical search engines are for online classifieds and for jobs.

Services like these make money from premium offerings and targeted and local advertising. There are many opportunities for local businesses to provide Web-based services using relatively cheap infrastructure and common Web standards and formats. For companies looking for a competitive advantage, the time is right once again to look online.

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