November 2006 - Online Strategies

Basic Training in Web 2.0

By Heather Brunt

Web 2.0 is so much more than a marketing buzzword-and it’s time to demystify this concept. Marketers need to understand that small improvements to a website’s graphics or layout, although useful, will not allow them to tap into the power of an effective Web 2.0 site.

So what is Web 2.0? Well, it’s a term created by O’Reilly Media, and subsequently used in conjunction with MediaLive International as a title for a conference held in 2004. It refers to a new level of web services, a second generation. Web 2.0 websites are characterized by open, interactive communication, shared information and content, and a user-friendly interface that encourages participation.

Some of the concepts contributing to the philosophy of Web 2.0 include blogs, tagging, RSS feeds, podcasts and wikis. Let’s review these one at a time.

Blog - an online diary shared with users, allowing them to comment and/or share content with other people. Users can subscribe to blogs and receive notification whenever content is updated. Blogs can be found on many websites, anywhere that people want to stay in touch with other users. Authors, celebrities and musicians use them to stay in touch with the public, but anyone can start a blog-even if it’s just to stay in touch with distant relatives and friends. Try the “help” section of to see how easy it is to start your own free online diary.

Tagging - users organize content on a website by either creating their own tags (labels or keywords), or using the tags created by others. Other users adopt successful tags, which makes for a very efficient system, relevant to those who are using it. Flickr ( is a good place to check this out, as you can take a tour of the site and its features. It was created for users interested in sharing photos with other users, and uses tagging as part of an information retrieval system to classify the content (e.g., “cute,” “dog” and “retriever” might be used to identify the same photo). Click on “browse popular tags” to see how their content has been organized.

Podcasts - the distribution of audio and/or video content, using syndication (like RSS feeds). Podcasts have appeared in the press lately as a way to get content into the hands of consumers so they can view or listen to the material at their leisure. Popular radio station hosts are now podcasting their shows so listeners can catch the show later, if they missed the broadcast. And anyone can make podcasts-explore the podcast directory in iTunes and you’ll find a wonderful variety of content.

RSS feeds - RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and all that means is that users can subscribe to the content. This allows them to be notified when the content has been updated. As mentioned earlier, users can subscribe to blogs, podcasts or any other content. On Flickr, users can subscribe to anyone’s photos, and be notified when new ones are added to the collection.

Wikis - websites that allow users to easily add, change and discuss content. This promotes collaborative work and results in a better product-many heads are better than one! Check out the namesake,, where users are welcome to contribute content, and join discussion groups on almost any topic you can query.

Now that we’ve covered some basic definitions, we’re going to focus on three predominant trends that embody the concept of Web 2.0:

  • User-generated content
  • Social networking
  • Technology

User-generated content. Philosophically speaking, Web 2.0 centers around people-people who contribute content, post their commentary, as well as send links to other people-and the end result is a website that’s better off for it. It’s a user-driven approach to creating and distributing web content, which fosters collaboration and participation. As mentioned earlier, illustrates this well-it’s a Web 2.0 version of a dictionary, allowing users to query any word or phrase, post articles and join discussion groups on any topic. All of which contributes to an improvement of the site, the quality of the information, and its ability for use.

Social networking. The Internet has become an open forum where users can share content, comment, criticize, prioritize and connect with other users. On sites like MySpace, users can create their own profiles, make friends, share photos, post videos, start blogs (or subscribe to them) and find many ways to express themselves. In other words, the Internet is now not so much a place to go, as something to do.

Technology. Users are entertained by interactive sites that provide them with an in-depth online experience, such as the manipulation of graphics and stills, customization and queries that update as variables are changed. All of which are brought to you by Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), the tools that make it possible for sections of a webpage to update without refreshing the whole page. Ajax is one of the most popular applications that make this possible. For those who want to dig deeper on this topic, is a great resource. Or try designing shoes on Reebok’s website,, for a taste of this technology.

Although the term Web 2.0 was first used in 2004, the Internet has been evolving constantly since its inception. It’s only when we stop to assess the current state of the web, that we can see significant change in its services, in recent history. Websites are moving from static sources of information to dynamic interactive platforms, allowing users to contribute as well as consume. Marketers who can embrace the philosophy of Web 2.0 will be able to leverage its social and technological power-and get the most from their online properties.

Heather Brunt is operations manager at Torstar Media Group Television. She can be reached at (416) 869-4966, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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