Pondering Web 2.0
Over the last year there has been so much talk going on about Web 2.0. Many people are spending alot of time and effort creating definitions, writing manifestos, hosting conferences, and trying to prop up a new "Boom".
I have been listening carefully, as I am sure many in the Flash community are as well. I have got my hands on as many conference tapings as I can, downloaded related podcasts, and reading as much as I can online.
While there is surely great ideas and great debate out there(some for example):
Web 2.0 Essentials
Web 2.0 Show
I still find myself uninspired by all the talk. The more I listen to, the more I realize that many of these concepts are what caused Steve and myself to start Teknision in 2001.
Now I know that sounds egotistical in a way, but I do not mean that we would have had anything to do with starting a movement, I just mean that most of these concepts are old to me. Most of the things that many of these conferences refer to as being the goal, I feel that myself, and certainly the Flash Community as a whole achieved long ago.
loadVariables was a beautiful thing. I remember when I first tried loading some data into Flash asynchronously from an ASP page, I sat back in awe. Then in 2000 I set off on a huge mission to learn all of the fundamentals of XML because it was introduced into the Flash toolset. I remember telling people that we could build Flash sites in which the content could be populated from a database, and that XML was the future of the web.
I remember getting really good at impelmenting this, and had a great partner at my side (Steve) who is an awesome designer. We left the companies we were working for at the time, because we wanted to set off on a mission to build a better web. So we started Teknision in 2001. Our pitch was: "We can build rich interfaces for websites or applications in which the content or data can be driven by a datasource". We had many an opportunity to do so over the years and have tonnes of examples to showcase.
So where am I going with this, well the Ajax chatter bores me. While it is an alternative to Flash, and alternatives are great, asynchronous XML requests have been defining the web for quite some time, and those that deem this as a new concept leave me wondering if they actually have been paying attention to what has been happening over the last 5+ years.
The story should not be:
"Ajax is redefining the way we develop for the web"
It should be:
"Unfortunately it took 5 years for the standards movement to realize that XML could be used asynchronsly to improve web development"
Again, I know that sounds harsh, but it makes me cry when I hear newborn Ajax promoters tout this ability. It leads me to believe that all of the super innovative design and development that has been accomplished by the Flash community has gone unoticed by the rest of our industry. That most people are still hung up on skip intro, and crappy banner ads.
That sounds even more harsh, but listen to this if you have the time:
In this podcast:
Web 2.0 Essentials
There is an episode called: Beyond Usability and at time code: 40:18
He talks about the Broadmoor Hotel Reservation application as he is describing usability in Rich Internet Applications. He does state that it is one of his favourite examples to show, but then says sarcasticly:
"But it's a Flash interface.. of all things"
Hmm, so the Flash is in there, first time I heard it mentioned in the whole conference, and while they are using it as a favourite example, they still manage to bash Flash at the same time.
I wonder why that is, or why Flash is deemed as not a good way to go by these Web 2.0 advocates. Does he even know that the example he cited is an application that has been around for what?: 2-3 years, or even that the term Rich Internet Application was coined by Jeremy Allaire CTO of Macromedia upon the release of the MX family in 2002?
Anyways, I think it is because of this mentality that posts like this are happening:
Flash Player Adoption Signifigance
Why Flex Matters
(Sorry John, didn't mean to pick on you)
It is starting to sound like there is a little bit of nerves around Flash Platform, and it's competitors going into the Web 2.0 era. I really think this is because of the fact the the competitors are stealing the Flash story and telling it better (or just louder) than the Flash Platform community to the right people.
Some would argue, that the Web 2.0 manifestos are more about ideas than they are about technology. That is true in a way, Remixing, The Long Tail, Openness, etc, but if that is true I would say again that there have been so many examples of this behaviour in web applications that are 5+years old, so once again not a new concept.
Most Messageboard systems, or even mailinglists follow these same trains of thought, and they are technologoes that seem to be fading away. There is a local community site here in Ottawa created by a local DJ called http://techno.xvi.com. This is a seriously old school site but it was one of the most "Web 2.0 ish" examples I can think of. It is totally Web 2.0 out of concept not because of implementation.
Many of the elements of current Web 2.0 definitions really do not apply to all businesses. I'll give an example, SNL Financial, who we developed the SNL Merger Model for, have no interest in making their data available to the general public as it is the core of their business in collecting it. While there are communties around the product and data, the users are competitors in business and aren't interested in sharing their findings with each other. That being said, the Web 2.0 community enrichment definitions don't really apply well here. However, We developed a beautiful rich interface on top of an existing service oriented architechture and the result was a web application that behaves and feels like a desktop application. Very web 2.0.
SNL's core product The SNL DataSource, is subscribed to by many banks as a series of web services that they can use to build their own applications around. While this is extremely Web 2.0, they have been doing it online for many years now, and it again isn't really something that justifies renaming the web.
So then would our SNL Merger Model application be considered Web 2.0? It certainly implements a few of the features of Web 2.0 but certainly does not in others. Techno XVI doesn't really have what I would consider a rich interface, but it definitely has all of the community and openness features that Web 2.0 talks about. Would our chat on teknision.com fit in? I mean, it is way beyond asynchronous XML, it uses a real time binary protocol (rtmp) and leverages a remote translation web service at the same to act as a universal translator.
To me Web 2.0 should define a much deeper level of change in experience and platform, I love the statement:
"The Web is the operating system of the future"
Well, to me Web 2.0 has very little to do with a browser. It is a very small piece of the puzzle. I would claim (I will get roasted by some for this one) that an application I would deem as Web 2.0 is:
That to me is a totally new experience designed around the concept of the web. Maybe some would say that it is more of use of the internet than it is the web, but to me that is an example of a Web 2.0 experience. You are leveraging and enriching data, building community around it, giving users control of their experince, and delivering it in a whole new way, not just focused on the browser. Users can interact with their accounts from the Web though. Remember Halo2 game RSS feeds, or postgame carnage maps?
The evolution of mobile and it's direction seem very Web 2.0 to me as well. As technology in that space evolves, users are receiving radical new experiences focused around a digital life to go.
A dream out there is household appliances that interact with applications. Turn your lights off when your not home. Is the stove on? That to me really represents a new experience for an end user. There is no community around it, or no real need for openness , but still the evolution of the web in my mind.
All of the above are examples of breaking out of the browser and breaking out of the document. Which is why:..
...it keeps coming back to one thing for me. Web 2.0 by most definitions seems to me to be a fancy way of saying an application designed on top of a services oriented architecture in which your audience is the prime contributor. So at the end of the day, this definition leaves me frustrated, because it is a mishmash of architecture and social behaviour that do not seem to apply to the web in general, but rather suggest a great way to solve certain problems. Is it an architecture, or is it a concept? Which one? A bit of both doesn't mean anything (to me anyways).
I think Web 2.0 is too broad a term to describe what they are trying to describe. A "Rich Internet Application" seems better to me. That term really focuses on the concept that there is a rich UI, and that there is an application feeding it data. How that application is supposed to work, and how it is supposed to serve it's users is left undefined. Web 2.0 Definitions that include a reference to Ajax /Flash corrode the idea of Web 2.0. You are suggesting architecture for something you are stuggling to define. Where as Flash or Ajax used within the context of Rich Internet Applications make alot of sense.
A Rich Internet Application is a component of Web 2.0 right? If so, what does Web 2.0 encompass that is outside the realm of a Rich Internet Application?
While I think there is great development/ideas arising in the web world, but creating a blanket name "Web 2.0" that suggests that the whole web is changing, just seems like hype for luring investors to me. Again I prefer the concept that users will start to see new things on the internet, but there is not an accross the board change happening.
Again, I certainly haven't put this all into perspective yet, as many out there trying to figure it out say as well. The biggest question we should all ask ourselves is why we feel the need to make such a big deal about it? Is there really any value in defining Web 2.0?, and if so, who is benefitting from the existense and importance of that definition?