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Web 2.0: What's in a Number?

Posted by: Rob Hof on August 08, 2005

Tim Bray, Sun Microsystems’ director of Web technologies, hates the term Web 2.0, saying it’s vacuous marketing hype. It’s true that the term is pretty amorphous, and it has become a catch-all for just about every recent Web technology. But Tim O’Reilly, whose publishing company runs the Web 2.0 conference, makes an impassioned defense that goes beyond mere self-interest. He notes that the term has helped define a new generation of technologies whose social nature differs qualitatively from the broadcast-oriented first generation of Web technologies.

Me, I’d call it the Power of Us, as BW’s recent cover story put it. Even though I think it’s more descriptive, I realize that doesn’t have quite the geeky elegance of Web 2.0, so I suspect mine will remain the minor leagues of memedom.

In any case, Web developer Danny Ayers, in the comments on Tim’s post, points to what seems to me the best thoughts about what Web 2.0 really means, from entrepreneur and developer Ian Davis:

Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology. It’s about enabling and encouraging participation through open applications and services. By open I mean technically open with appropriate APIs but also, more importantly, socially open, with rights granted to use the content in new and exciting contexts. Of course the web has always been about participation, and would be nothing without it. It’s single greatest achievement, the networked hyperlink, encouraged participation from the start. Somehow, through the late nineties, the web lost contact with its roots and selfish interests took hold. This is why I think the Web 2.0 label is cunning: semantically it links us back to that original web and the ideals it championed, but at the same time it implies regeneration with a new version. Technology has moved on and it’s important that the social face of the web keeps pace.

Well said.

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Reader Comments

edwyn chan

August 12, 2005 11:36 AM

I definitely agree with Ian that web 2.0 has nothing to do with technology, as most of the technology used is existing stuff. As a company in China in the business of web 2.0-related websites, I often have to explain to my traditional media clients what web 2.0 is and how they can embrace and try to catch up with the web portals as a source of news. This is what I told China Mobile in a recent meeting: In words, web 2.0 does not seem exciting (e.g., blogs) but it's after experiencing it that you know what's special.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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