Web 2.0


Map Location
F, 5
Thread Location
Page 89

Matt Willis

Agreement Description


When you think of the term “web 2.0” what comes to your mind? An upgrade of all Internet architecture to run a version 2.0 set of software that makes the Internet “better,” indicating some kind of progress? Perhaps, you think of the phrase as an overused buzzword that lead to terms like science 2.0, research 2.0, medicine 2.0 or health 2.0? Or, you may just know that it marks an idea, an epoch in the timeline of the Internet, or a conversation about how we use and interact with the Internet. Although each of these scenarios have some truth to them, the purpose of this agreement is to focus on the conversation about web 2.0, to understand what it is, what it is not, and how this conversation can be developed in a manner that facilitates the core mission of librarians: to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.

The Web 2.0 Landscape

There are three arguments that serve as the archetype for every articulation of what web 2.0 is. I will present each archetype as a different perspective for clarifying the many arguments and conversations that all construct our thoughts and attitudes toward the Internet. The first perspective I call the technology perspective, in which web 2.0 refers to specific technologies that facilitate concepts of participation, collaboration, and openness. The second perspective I call the meaningless perspective. This perspective encapsulates all the buzz and marketing that occur around the terminology of web 2.0. It is a meaningless concept that preys off the constructs people have about web 2.0, such as 2.0 sounding like an upgrade or being innovative, and sells it right back to them. Finally, the critical perspective posits that whatever web 2.0 is, everything it can mean and symbolize is actually a bad idea and should actively be restricted and controlled.

The main theme you may notice at this point is that web 2.0 is ambiguous, at times confusing, at times hip and seductive, and certainly in development. What I want to convey in this agreement is that web 2.0 is very much a half-baked term that certain camps continue to construct meaning around and that other camps are trying to be rid of or refuse to acknowledge. The following paragraphs examine each perspective I have presented in detail so that the reader not only has a holistic view of the web 2.0 discussion but can steer the discussion in a direction that is beneficial for society and knowledge facilitation.

The Technology Perspective

This is the dominant argument of what the term web 2.0 refers. Conversations fitting into the technology perspective revolve around the technical innovations that make web 2.0 possible. This includes programming languages, architecture, web APIs, and other ideas such as: XML, RSS, REST, SOAP, FOAF, AJAX, JQuery, and XFN. These technologies are responsible for many of the services you may be familiar with such as social networking sites, social bookmarking, tagging (for an example of a tag cloud see figure 1), podcasting, and blogging to name a few. In this perspective, the term 2.0 implies progress using the computer versioning upgrade metaphor. It is easy to get entrenched in this type of thinking, for example as muddy as web 2.0 is as a concept the term web 3.0 is actively in use and refers to the semantic web, or when computers can understand human language as a form of programming, or as Conrad Wolfram states “computers are generating new information, rather than humans” (Wolfram, 2010). No doubt, as technology advances web 3.0 can have as many or more meanings than web 2.0 currently has, it is important to stress here and throughout this agreement that technology is a continuum. The ideas and concepts expressed in web 2.0 already have names attached to them, thus creating new words is redundant and confusing.

Figure 1: A tag cloud (an idea also associated with web 2.0) of typical web 2.0 themes (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Historically, the phrase web 2.0 was first used in the article Fragmented Future written in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci where DiNucci writes:

The first glimmerings of web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. Ironically, the defining trait of web 2.0 will be that it won’t have any visible characteristics at all. The web will be identified only by its underlying DNA structure – TCP/IP, HTTP, and URLs. As those technologies define its workings, the webs outward form – the hardware and software that we use to view it – will multiply. On the front end, the web will fragment into countless permutations with different looks, behaviors, uses, and hardware hosts. The web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens.

In the same article DiNucci also mentions the current (1999 era) web as 1.0 and compares it to web 2.0 using the metaphor of Pong to The Matrix. While this is the first documented use of the phase, it also received further attention in 2003 during the first web 2.0 conference hosted by O’Reilly and MediaLive. The conference popularized the term through highlighting that customers are creating content for businesses through the use of web 2.0 technologies that facilitate participation.

The Meaningless Perspective

Technology easily lends itself to being an artifact in association with innovation, intelligence, progress, and other signifiers of success. Savvy to this characteristic, marketers are keen to leverage aspects of technological artifacts hoping that those ideas transfer to other products and companies. In 2005, information architecture specialist, Jay Fienberg, contributes to the meaningless perspective by calling web 2.0 a retrospective concept, in which it encapsulated specific technologies and ideas during the time it was first introduced but just a year later web 2.0 is being used to refer to any new technology and, most importantly, is being used by companies to sound innovative and cutting edge (Feinberg, 2005). As a result of the overuse of web 2.0 it has become a watered down and meaningless marketing slogan (Shaw, 2005). This may add to the confusion of what web 2.0 is – that it is still being used to refer to current technologies and future technologies. Part of the problem is that the software development metaphor does not work for social agreements and evolving conversations. Microsoft office can have a version 12, 13, and 14. In each instance, it is clear to the user and to the market what each version is and even the features of each version.

Perhaps you remember the dot com bubble of 1995-2000 when the Internet sector saw tremendous growth in online centered companies selling goods and services. Companies would add “.com” or the popular “e” prefix to their name and see stock prices soar from investors. This created the boom and bust of dot com companies that ultimately failed from the glut of capital and lack of a reliable business model. It was an economic movement fueled by popularity and technical fetishism. The same can be said for the allure of a web 2.0 branded company in which startups use the phrase but provide no concrete business model or product. Lauded inventor of the Internet and scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, is credited with saying that the term web 2.0 means nothing. The World Wide Web was always about connecting people and promoting communication, therefore, the term web 2.0 is not needed (Berners-Lee, 2006). This is an important idea because it reinforces the speed at which technology develops but, more importantly, the faster speed of our expectations for technology. Indeed, the World Wide Web was always about connecting people. It did not seem like it because the only people connected to the web in the early days were the hyper computer literate, researchers, and the military. Computer access was uncommon and, therefore, expensive. However, the goal was to increase communication and connections with the web, hence the metaphor in use: the World Wide Web. It has no central point but it is made up of many different connections of people. While the web was meant to connect people it could not happen in the developing stages because the necessary technology was unavailable at the time. It may have always been a goal, but that goal raced ahead of the reality of direct connection protocols and rudimentary client-server networks. It was only until many years later that the Internet could be used in a practical manner by an increasingly wider audience. This process continues today when futurists have a vision for the potential of the Internet (for example, I just talked about web 3.0 earlier) but however accurate that vision is, its success relies upon the reality of the technology we have around us. It is the technology available now that needs to be used, developed, and refined until it reaches the heights we hold for its potential.

The Critical Perspective

Many of the arguments in this area connect with a much larger argument that is critical of the Internet as a platform. Pioneering this perspective is Andrew Keen as he has laid out many of these ideas in the book Cult of the Amateur. The argument presented in the book is that web 2.0, and therefore the modern Internet, is a bad idea because it democratizes information. This is to say it decreases the amount of gatekeepers and professionals in a given subject area. Web 2.0 enabled anyone to start a blog, publish an article, or in general be heard. This creates a muddled see of amateur voices that undermine credible sources of news, publishers, and other professionals. Keen posits that the ability for anyone to create content and be heard on the Internet represents digital narcissism. Because so many people are creating content on the Internet that no one is reading it all, this information has displaced the role of the professional by grouping them in with the amateur. The main idea here is that the Internet is destroying culture and society by cheapening the voice of professionals and authority figures.

The Evolving Internet

What can be said with absolute certainty is that the Internet is an evolving platform with no end goal or final version. Former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, famously remarked that the Internet “is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” What is particularly important about that quote is that it frames the Internet as an experiment, not just an experiment in anarchy but an experiment in science, medicine, government, law, and every other facet of modern society. One of the truisms we can state about the Internet is that it disrupts. This experiment will be ongoing for the foreseeable future; it is meaningless to talk about what web 2.0 is, what it once was, or what it can be. The conversation must shift to concepts and artifacts that are a result of the Internet. Modern life brings with it unique problems, solutions, and many perspectives. In this sense, the critical perspective of Keen and others is a valuable one because it is built on a premise that web 2.0 is causing changes in society. Whether those changes are good or bad for society is the conversation worth having, not the conversation about how to appear innovative.

Apomediation, Ambient Intimacy, & the Discussion Ahead

What we have focused on up to this point are competing dogmatic terminologies for compartmentalizing a continually evolving phenomenon that attempts to direct how we talk about the Internet. Behind all the semantics, every perspective would agree that the modern Internet is a collection of ideologies that are designed to widen community involvement and participation of that community through standards in design and software as a service. The concept of “the cloud” is a popular metaphor for thinking about many services over the Internet and, indeed is now the way that many business models function across the Internet. The cloud resembles the web 2.0 debate in that it is a way to discuss particular technologies. However, there is nothing new about the cloud; it is most certainly another buzz word that will not be in use years from now when other technologies have captured the attention of business and society. The foundation of the Internet, the basic idea of a distributed network, is still the same as it was in its infancy. What we are seeing in the use of words like “web 2.0” and “the cloud” is the innovation and creativity which are centered on the widely available global public network. With the shifting terminology and new technology it can be an arduous task to keep a firm foot on these shifting sands. The conversation must be deeper than semantics; the conversation must be about the use and effects of the Internet. I would argue that by considering the effects of the Internet we can begin to understand its uses, trends, advantages, and disadvantages as an information service.

One effect that is especially modern and facilitated by the Internet is the subversion of traditional authority figures and power structures. While this is similar to Keen’s argument, one must look closer to notice what is happening. This is a process of intermediation, disintermediation, and apomediation. These three mediations describe the influence over individuals’ information seeking behavior and decision making. Apomediation was first articulated by health information researcher Gunther Eysenbach as a way to describe the challenges to information credibility in the medical context afforded by the availability of information on the Internet. Eysenbach (a2008) first defines apomediation: “On a decentralized, electronic medium, peers and intelligent systems can give consumers additional information about a topic from other sources and perspectives, which can mediate (reduce or enhance) their trust in a message in a personalized, tailored way. This process shall be called “apomediation” henceforth” (p. 129). Intermediaries are situated in between (inter-) an individual and the information they seek, whereas apomediaries stand by (apo-) and provide an added value to the information seeker. It is important to note that apomediaries are not a requirement, or means to an end, for the information seeker to obtain the information (Eysenbach, a2008). Opportunities exist in this intermediation/ disintermediation negotiation process, particularly in motivation. As figure 2 indicates, a person’s successful apomediation of information can lead to increased autonomy and self-empowerment for learning.

Figure 2: Dynamic Intermediation-Disintermiation-Apomediation model (Eysenbach, b2008)

Another novel behavior evoked by Internet participation is the phenomenon “ambient intimacy,” the word first coined by design researcher Leisa Reichelt to describe the ability to inform people over the Internet of mundane tasks. Reichelt (2007) states that:

“Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.”

Ambient intimacy connects with the previous concept of apomediaries, the individuals in your social network who apomediate information for you. This occurs even as you hear about other mundane activities as you go about your day. Information communication technology is synonymous with reducing distance and borders, and ambient intimacy is one of its effects.

Countless other effects and behaviors facilitated by Internet use and communication are theorized in much of the literature from the field of Communication in the area of Computer-Mediated-Communication (CMC). Theories such as Social Information Processing, Information Richness, Media Ecology, Media Synchronicity, Impression Management, and Behavioral Disinhibition are all rich and fruitful ways of understanding and constructing the conversation around the Internet as an information platform. In understanding these behaviors, effects, and theories, we create a clear space that lets us move beyond the technology and whatever web 2.0 means in the technical sense, and have a more productive dialogue about the social outcomes of technology, enabling us to benefit through understanding more about ourselves and our communities.


  1. Some people hear Web 2.0 and think “innovation” and “up to date technology.” How do we avoid using buzzwords, yet convey that feeling of innovation and current technology?
  2. What “software as a service” type platforms work for our community and how can we use them in interesting ways?
  3. What Internet effects are relevant in our communities and how can we better understand and leverage them?


Berners-Lee, T. (2006). IBM developerWorks Interviews: Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved from http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/podcast/dwi/cm-int082206txt.html.
DiNucci, D. (1999). Fragmented Future. Retrieved from http://tothepoint.com/fragmented_future.pdf.

Eysenbach, G. (2008a). Credibility of Health Information and Digital Media : New Perspectives and Implications for Youth. In A. J.Flanagin, with Miriam J. Metzger (Eds.), Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility (pp. 123-154). The MIT Press. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262562324.123.

Eysenbach, G. (2008b). Medicine 2.0: Social Networking, Collaboration, Participation, Apomediation, and Openness. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 10(3). Journal of Medical Internet Research. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1030.

Fienberg, J. (2005). The era of web 2.Over. Retrieved from http://icite.net/blog/200510/web2_over.html.

Keen, A. (2007). The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values. Doubleday Currency.

Reichelt, L. (2007). Ambient Intamacy. Retrieved from http://www.disambiguity.com/ambient-intimacy/.

Shaw, R. (2005). Web 2.0? It doesn’t exist. Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/blog/ip-telephony/web-20-it-doesnt-exist/805.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Cloud Computing. Retrieved a, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Web 2.0. Retrieved b, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0.

Wolfram, C. (2010). No IT Pro Interview. Retrieved from http://www.itpro.co.uk/621535/q-a-conrad-wolfram-on-communicating-with-apps-in-web-3-0.

*This supplement did not appear in the original printed Atlas, but is being considered for inclusion in future editions. What do you think about the supplement and the topic?