Digital RevolutionThe internet and connectivity revolution Implications of connectivity and accessibility

III.

Implications of connectivity and accessibility

As users moved to the internet in an ever-growing number, the increasing acceptance and use of the internet as a modern information and communications technology led to a new way to participate in the network.

It led to a gradual transition towards a second generation of web-based services, which emphasises online collaboration, connectivity and the ability to share content among users, which became known as “Web 2.0”.

Web 2.0

The concept of Web 2.0 became popular during a series of conferences with the same name, organised by publisher Tim O’Reilly and MediaLive International, started in 2004 and discussing the turning point for the web after the bursting of the dot-com bubble in autumn of 2001. O'Reilly describes Web 2.0 as "the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform."

Unlike a Web 1.0 website that limits users to viewing content in a passive manner, a Web 2.0 website allows users to interact and collaborate with each other as part of a virtual community through social media communication as creators of user-generated content. Examples of Web 2.0 features include social networking sites or social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), Web logs or blogs (WordPress, Medium, SquareSpace), collaborative writing or wikis (Wikipedia), image sharing sites (Flickr, Pinterest), video sharing sites (YouTube), web applications (Google Apps, Microsoft 365), collaborative consumption platforms (Airbnb, Car2Go), and a range of sites that continues to expand.

Let’s have a closer look at Web 2.0 and how it has turned the network into a vibrant computing platform.

Note

Web 2.0 doesn’t have a definition that is commonly agreed upon, but it is an open notion that encompasses three main concepts:

  • Rich internet applications: Web applications that have many of the same features and appearances as desktop applications but don’t require installation on the user’s PC

  • Web-oriented architecture: Software architecture designed to be used for websites and web applications by disclosing their functionalities for other applications to exploit and integrate the functionalities. The result is a range of much richer applications.

  • Social web: Refers to the active role of the end user in the content created on the website as part of a virtual community. This happens via social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram where users interact with each other, but also through comments sections where users can post their opinions on specific topics.

A computer and social media icons

Below we will look at how the shift towards new approaches for using the network have converged to create the web as we know it today.

Using the web as a platform

With software applications being built and used directly on the web as opposed to the user’s desktop, these reproduce the user experience of desktop software while offering features similar to a PC setting but running within the browser. This makes it convenient for users to access the same functionalities on different devices.

Example

Google is one example of using the web as a platform. Firstly, Google can be accessed on multiple devices, whether you use a PC or a mobile device. Secondly, Google is a free and readily available service requiring only an internet connection to access it. Its search engine and database work together to offer a seamless service and user experience.

Using software as a service

Software is offered directly over the web with customers paying – directly or indirectly – for the use of that service. This offers a variety of advantages including accessibility, compatibility, operational management and lower upfront costs than traditional software download and installation.

Example

Salesforce.com is one of the most popular providers of software as a service for enterprise-scale applications such as customer relation management (CRM). Its CRM tool is completely cloud-based and businesses can run and manage it without an IT expert, allowing them to collect, store, access, monitor and analyse customer data from a single dashboard.

Rich user experiences

On the other side, using the web as a platform allows rich user experiences to be built, with applications being developed to make web surfing and accessing the internet a better user experience.

Example

Google Maps incorporates many functionalities that provide a rich user experience. To start with, it has a user interface that is simple and functional, allowing the user to identify their location and the surroundings and to move the map or zoom. It’s possible to search for places and routes on the map, suggesting the best routes that take into account different transportation means – while calculating the transit time and cost of a specific route. Google Maps acts as a location-based search engine, suggesting businesses or locations of interest in the area of the user’s location. The application also allows the user to download the map of a certain country or place to be used when the user doesn’t have internet access.

Application programming interfaces or APIs

The word API surrounded by cords illustrating plug-ins

These are intermediate programs allowing devices to share important data and expose practical functionalities between devices and applications. APIs provide a secure and standardised way for applications to work with each other and deliver the information or functionality requested without any user intervention.

APIs play a key role in the improvement of existing services online and the development of new products and businesses. By allowing developers to reuse software components, APIs help them to develop new solutions without repeating work that’s already been done. This is made possible by accessing third-party services and data, or using APIs to transform a business’ own data and services into a platform that encourages others to build upon and use it.

Example

Although we may not notice them, APIs really are everywhere, making our lives easier from behind the scenes. From the concert ticket you bought online to the blogger’s review you shared on Facebook or the cheap flight you booked on Expedia, all are made possible by APIs.

Let’s discover how major companies used Uber’s API to improve their customer’s experience:

  • TripAdvisor uses Uber’s API to request the taxi-hailing service. This provides a complete traveling experience all inside one app.

  • StubHub, a service that helps users stay up to date with interesting events taking place in town, offers the possibility to set a reminder for a ride to the event’s location when a user buys a ticket for an event.

  • Alexa, the voice assistant developed by Amazon, integrates Uber for a ride requesting service. A user can book a car using a simple voice command — “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride”.

APIs level the playing field in the world of applications, allowing all kind of businesses and individuals to take an active role and collaborate to improve existing services or create new ones by using the same tools without having to code their own proprietary software.

Architecture of participation

The goal of creating rich user experiences also involves the end user providing feedback to optimise the customer experience. This is a key Web 2.0 principle: the service automatically gets better the more people use it, and is called the "architecture of participation", in which a community of users contributes to the content or to the design and development process.

Example

Flickr is a photo-sharing platform built to function as an online community. Flickr made it possible for people to tag or comment on each other’s images, and for developers to incorporate Flickr into their own applications. It offers application programming interfaces (APIs) for accessing its content, enabling third parties to present images in new contexts and accessing and using Flickr’s services in their own applications. Bloggers commonly use it as an online photo repository that they can connect to their own sites, but the APIs offer more possibilities. Programmers can create applications that can perform almost any function available on the Flickr website. Flickr’s value lies partly in its large catalogue of photos, but also in the metadata users provide to help themselves navigate that huge collection.

Harnessing collective intelligence

Going one step further with the "architecture of participation" mindset, some platforms put the user at the core of their architecture, having users create and continuously improve the service. This is also known as “harnessing collective intelligence”.

Example

Wikipedia is perhaps one of the best-known examples that leverages the ethic of collaboration as the service is essentially written and edited by its users. In Wikipedia, rather than one entity centrally defining all subjects and content, people all over the world who are interested in a certain topic can collaborate asynchronously to create a living work. Wikipedia combines the collaborative aspects of wiki sites (websites that let visitors add, remove, edit, and change content) with other features such as keyword search, hyperlinks and authoring – meaning the ability to create and update content – to facilitate cross-references of content. Wikipedia does have editors, but everyone is welcome to edit. Volunteers emerge over time, editing and re-editing articles that interest them. Consistency and quality improve as more people participate, though the content isn’t always perfect when first published.

Distribution of information over the web

Beyond simply contributing to the web, users started taking an active role in the creation and distribution of information over the web. One good way to get information out fast is through blogs. A blog is a regularly updated website that collects chronological texts and articles from one or more authors with the most recent appearing first, with a particular topic and where the author is free to publish on topics of personal or general interest. People read blogs, see things that interest them and write about it in their own blogs, facilitating the spread of information on the web, which becomes another widespread source of information alongside traditional media outlets.

Beyond the network, what powers the engine running Web 2.0 are the infrastructure and computing capabilities that manage the immense amount of data that Web 2.0 creates, namely cloud computing and big data technologies. In the next two chapters we will have a closer look at how the intersection of these technologies marks a new stage of the web revolution and lays the foundations for the development of emerging technologies, in what is called Web 3.0.

Part summary

After completing chapter 4, you should be able to:

  • Explain what the main kinds of networks are and what the main elements that constitute a network are.

  • Understand the difference between the internet and the World Wide Web.

  • Express the factors that have contributed to the transition towards a second generation of web-based services.

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V. The cloud computing revolution