If you follow any of the Web 2.0 A-listers, like Pete Cashmore, Frank Arrington or Om Malik , then you know that the only thing anyone can agree on is that no one really knows what Web 2.0 is. Folks seem to agree that it’s got something to do with the rise of social media, Rich Internet Applications and the growing power of us, but beyond that there lots of debate and grey area. In an attempt to cut through some of the noise, I offer this list of 5 sites you can play with to get first hand experience of Web 2.0. No need for $1,500 research reports or slick consultants with 50 slide PowerPoint decks. I guarantee that if you get engaged in at least 3 of these sites you’ll know more about Web 2.0 then most new media pontificators and all old media execs.
“Whats the point of this?” Thats seems to be the universal refrain when people first encounter the site, and its a damn good question. I still havent figured out what the point really is, but whenever I get a text telling me to post, I do. I also post when I have those all to frequent that someone says something where the only intelligent response is to stage blankly in dumbfounded silence (a look I’ve had to perfect of late).
The site is slow and often unresponsive but its a great example of the utilities and services that catch on with people hungry to say all that goes unsaid. Its a place where you and a few hundred thousand of your closest friends can answer one simple question; “What are you doing?” Thats it, nothing else. Yup, Web 2.0 all over. Simple, straightforward, discovered through usage not planning and amazingly addictive. Just like any good conversation. Doppelgangers: Happytxt, Justanger
Amazin Phasin’ hipped me to Grandcentral last year and I’ve used it as my main phone number ever since. The basic idea behind the site is to provide users with “one number to rule them all.” The simple way to think about it is Internet based call screening, with a bunch of features layered on top.
Want all the calls from a boss or co-worker to go directly to a voice mail? Done. Want calls from a talkative parent to be forwarded to the cell phone of a favorite sibling? Done. Grandcentral highlights the fun that can be had when one can apply online controls to multiple offline devices.
No discussion of Web 2.0 can occur without someone saying AJAX at least 10 times and in three different parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective). AJAX is the new HTML, its the basic building blocks of the new super cools webpages. I first took note of the power of AJAX when I started to play with the SideStep. It’s heavy use of AJAX makes finding the fare you want a much simpler process then Orbitz or any of the other travel meta-search engines out there. Farecast takes Sidestep to the next level, not only providing ticket information but also predicting the way that ticket price is likely to move. Both make heavy use of what anyone, excluding developers and techies, would most likely call AJAX (Farecast uses flash for most of its visualizations). If being an expert on Web 2.0 is important getting comfortable navigating around sites like Sidestep and Farecast is a good first step.
In the “early days”, way back in ’95, everyone was rushing to build beautifully gilded prisons within which to lock away users, or more specifically their eyeballs. Ironically these gilded prisons were called “portals”, although they didnt take you anywhere. Netvibes is one of a growing list of services that have taken a twist on the portal idea. Rather then gather everything into one place for you, they provide you with the means to build your own start page and litter it with what ever you find valuable. From gmail accounts and news sources to Flickr images and net videos, Netvibes gives you a way to bring them all together on one page. A start page that requires nothing to get going and only an email address to save. Where the old portals attempted to be the gatekeeper of your Internet experience these sites seek to be the concierge. Doppelgangers: Google Personalized Home, SuprGlu
Myspace, a collection of 159 million random profiles and musings by a lot less then 150 million random people, was sold for more then half a Billion non-random dollars. Why? Because it had 150 million random profiles, a ton of traffic and lots of press buzz. If you’ve ever thought you could build a social network of the same scale then Ning is the site for you. It started as the place to build lots of weird little social applications, from polls to “Hot or Not” like sites, and has evolved (or devolved) into a place to build weird little social networks. Rather then having to fuss with some geeky software, expensive developers or arcane technologies, Ning provides a simple page where you can drag and drop the features you want on your social network, pick its design, its privacy level and launch it to the public. Think of it as the WordPress of social networks.
Where do you go in this ever shrinking world for some alone time? How do you disconnect from the overly social networks, the ever twittering devices and the ubiquitous pings of email? Thankfully there is a site that helps you do just that. This site express the nature of Web 2.0 better then any Doc Searls rant or Clay Shirky lecture. If you want to be were others arent, isolatr is the site for you.