web 2.0 – what is all the fuss about, anyway

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When I started my studies of social- and economic history in Hamburg, Germany, the internet – as we know it – was raring to go. The one or other dotcommer was already out of business, however, there were still hotheads out there with a grandiose idea, plans were made (up) and shown to potential investors. Banks were giving away credits and the management of the mostly young companies changed their old cars through new ones, fresh, polished, leased. The main thing was to transpose ones great and well thought-out idea in a wacky way. There was a time when I myself thought about switching passions and started to study computer science at the RWTH in Aachen. Working as an IT expert seemed to be a seminal position.

As a self employeed I was working a lot for these young and rich companies and busy with mapping their ideas and processes to software. Development was often limited to a short time (I remember none of the 4 dotcommers I worked for lasted more than a year) – not because of a strict project plan, but because of the continuously shrinkage of money on their accounts: The pressure of competition was to high, the increasing investment-needs in electronic and human resources together with missing results crucial enough for investors and banks to cut out the credits. Frustrating, you’d think.

Somewhen between 2004 and 2005 O’Reilly used the word “Web 2.0″ in conjunction with a text or speech I do not know and I have never heard. A key word for an ongoing rethinking among developers and innovators, not yet for management and your usual businessman. Web 2.0 was at first glance the collective term for open software, for social networking, for linking between abstract and not so abstract ideas which should make the internet more concrete and accessible for erverybody. What has been one of 1.000.000 internet shops during the dotcom bubble, that is today a conglomeration of Wikis, Blogs and social networking software.

Web 2.0 in the eyes of money maker , however, has a lot to do with “technology” we once knew under a different – later in this post to mention – term: AJAX. The flaws of stateless HTT-Protocol and the thereby resulting reloads and visible posts of a few arguments to other pages should be reduced to a minimum, redefining responses of web applications to user interactions, forcing the user to adapt to a new technology that is heaven sent and confusing at the same time (taking years of filling out web forms and waiting for the server feedback through a reload into account). AJAX is a buzzword, and everything we understood under DHTML is now filed under this term, and it doesn’t matter if it’s just the replacement of a text node within a <div>-Tag or the dynamic changing of the src attribute in an <img>-Tag. AJAX sounds fresh, AJAX sounds up to date and AJAX doesn’t remind us of hours spent with problems caused by the different interpretation and implementation of CSS and Javascript in Netscape 4.x and IE 5.x .

Secondly, Web 2.0 is – and this is from my point of view as a developer and user the second big advantage beneath the support of the XMLHttpRequest – a change in terms of graphical usability that hit the web a few years ago. Instead of putting colorful and animated gifs on web pages and putting so much information on a page that one may want to leave the internet forever and go back to printed media, enough data was collected to give a good overview about what a user wants on a page, how things should be arranged, how different menu levels should be composed and what kind of font what kind of web page should use. User guidance changed and came with fresh colors and font-sizes beside the 12px range.

But where is Web 2.0 leading us? The changes that came with it were a step into the right direction. The bigger software companies are already trying to throw new plugins and client software onto the market which will make the programming of rich user interfaces more easy and error-free, to make internet/intranet-applications more accessible. In their eyes, people should get used to one kind of application behaviour, to interface concepts they are used to since the first non-console-based OS hit the market. Javascript libraries could make the deal, but those way to complex and overpowered libs out there make it hard to run them on hardware that is not up to date. Did you ever try to convince your customer to upgrade his 130 client workstations with a faster processor, so that some Javascript libraries could do their job well? Nothing worse than waiting for application feedback after some input has been made…


About the Author

Thorsten is the author of the conjoon open source project and the Ext.ux.Livegrid component. In this blog he writes more or less frequently about his current projects and web development in general.

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