Pew Zeroes in on ‘Web 2.0,’ Sort Of

Web sites and software companies have embraced a number of “Web 2.0” approaches and technologies, and many marketers have jumped on the bandwagon. Yet while sites embracing “2.0” tenets such as distributed content creation have a clear growth advantage over last year’s online businesses, even trendsetters can’t agree on what exactly distinguishes the old Web from the new. Those are the conclusions of a report released by Pew Research Center using data from Hitwise.

Web 2.0 (define) is characterized by sites “utilizing collective intelligence, providing network-enabled interactive services” and “giving users control over their own data,” according to the report. It also says these are not hard fast rules.

Sites embracing such concepts allow users to share their ideas through text, photo, video and audio. The report offers up Photobucket, where users can upload, tag, share and comment on photos, as one example of such a site. Photobucket’s traffic has steadily increased, while “1.0” site Kodakgallery has idled.

“We do see that in a period of roughly the past two years, you can see these dramatic shifts where the share of traffic to a 1.0 site remains flat where the share of a 2.0 site starts to surge,” said Pew Internet & American Life Project Senior Research Specialist Mary Madden.

But “2.0” is not just about user content; it also signifies a new sort of lingo. While sites like Yahoo’s Geocities always enlisted users to put up their own content, it relied on metaphors of place, such as “cities,” “neighborhoods” and “homepages,” according to the report. Socially-driven sites like MySpace focus on the person, with profiles, blogs, vlogs and the like.

“MySpace comes to mind. It’s three years old, but started gaining traction about a year and a half or two years ago,” said Bill Tancer, GM of global research at Hitwise. “Two years ago Geocities and MySpace were neck-and-neck. As of August, Myspace has 9 percent of all Internet visits.”

Can a 1.0 company become 2.0? If it commits resources, yes, though traffic won’t necessarily follow. Kodakgallery now uses AJAX (define), another Web 2.0 buzzword, to allow users to enlarge thumbnail images by mousing over them. Its market share over the past year remains flat, however, while Photobucket’s traffic continues to gain.

While many strive to achieve Web 2.0 nirvana, some companies fit the description while writing their own rules. Google “demonstrates many Web 2.0 sensibilities,” according to the report, but “doesn’t exactly give users governing power over their own data — one couldn’t, for instance, erase search queries from Google’s servers. Users contribute content to many of Google’s applications, but they don’t fully control it.”

“[Data consumers provide] to make the community or site rich is also in turn being used by them, archived by them,” said Madden. “I think that’s a whole contention in the Web 2.0 debate.”

The next generation of the Web may just happen before a definition is reached. “A lot of people are already talking about Web 3.0, and one of the criticisms is that we’re actually beyond 2.0,” said Madden. “It’s been a useful catch-all phrase; it helps those of us in the field talk about the reality of the participatory Web we all live in today, and differentiates it from the pre-bubble dot-com crash.”

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