Web 2.0h, that’s what it is

Posted June 27th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

I recently had a customer interaction that made clear to me the negative side to web-based terminology. The client asked me to make a Web 2.0-like site template. They also stated they wanted it accessible and standards-compliant. That was about it in regards to their site requirements. I asked for more details regarding the look, layout, and whatnot, but this led to client confusion. They didn’t really know but would know it when they saw it. Risky I say, but no problem, I made them an accessible, standards-complaint liquid site template and delivered the product. They didn’t like it and said I failed to give them the Web 2.0 look. But what is a Web 2.0 look? I know it has nothing to do with how a site looks, and it doesn’t mean standards-compliant nor does it mean accessible, even though the latter will help a great deal.

Web 2.0 has nothing to do with graphics, or layout, or any of that. It refers to the web as a whole and the user-interaction movement. Web 2.0 is confusing because it’s a term being thrown around loosely by some, while being fully embraced by others. Between the two lies a vast chasm of misunderstanding and assumptions. I did understand some of what the client wanted; they did state Web 2.0 used larger text than older sites. I nodded to the larger text, no problem there, but text size has absolutely nothing to do with Web 2.0. I learned after the fact they wanted rounded corners on boxes, but rounded corners doesn’t make a site Web 2.0 either.

So what is Web 2.0? Since many who use the term don’t really know what it is, I felt it necessary to write this short article explaining the premise. If for nothing else than to give it as a link to the next client who asks for such a thing. I don’t like to disappoint, but I have to go by what I am given for information. I figure if I do this, the next time a client wants rounded boxes they will say they want rounded boxes, instead of using terminology they don’t fully understand. It is impossible to make a Web 2.0 style sheet or Web 2.0 images. These don’t exist.

Web 2.0 is a blanket term used to describe the working side of the web, it’s how users interact with sites and the way data is stored, modified, delivered, and even distributed. Web 2.0 is about online data storage and retrieval — it’s web-based applications. The web is moving away from static content of Web 1.0, and the user input of Web 1.5. Web 2.0 is about making sites with huge and dynamic interactivity; it’s about reaction without action. In the days of Web 1.0 users got to a site, viewed the content, maybe clicked a link or two, then moved on. With Web 1.5 (like this blog), users got to change the web by way of populating fields and clicking on submit-type inputs — results were returned to users at the click of a button, cookies made it personal, streaming content made it active. Web 2.0 doesn’t require that. Instead things happen on their own using technology mash-ups like AJAX. In the Web 2.0 world things happen in real time and without much input (though there are serious perils to AJAX inexperienced developers need to be aware of).

Web 2.0 is also about working from home, or the coffee shop, or on the train using portable access devices like web-enabled cell phones or PDAs. It’s about accessing an application without having to go to the office and being hardwired into a LAN. It’s not about colors, graphics, or shapes. I did mention accessibility plays a role, but that’s more or less to ensure that all manner of devices can reach the data needed.

Remember this when referring to it. Try to be accurate about what it is. It’s not a style. Apparently there’s a ton of misinformation on the web and that’s where my client got his info. The result is not one I’m pleased with: I disappointed my client. That is a first for me, and hopefully a last.

Want to learn more about what Web 2.0 really is before using the term? Here are some selected resources which can help reveal the facts:

11 Responses to: “Web 2.0h, that’s what it is”

  1. Joe Dolson responds:
    Posted: June 27th, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Mike, that’s a great breakdown - I can promise you that there’s every likelihood I’ll be pointing clients at your article, as well! Differentiating the “buzz” of Web 2.0 from the reality is an important concept, which it’s sometimes difficult to convey to clients. And there isn’t much more frustrating than a client who just won’t state his/her desires in any concrete terms, too…

  2. Scott responds:
    Posted: June 27th, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    That’s terrible. I sure hope it wasn’t the design you showed me because I thought that was fantastic. One thing I guess you can take out of it is most customers don’t know much about the technology. If they did, they probably wouldn’t need a you or any designer. So I guess something like that is almost expected from time to time. I’m just sorry it happened to a great designer like yourself.

  3. Dave Z. responds:
    Posted: June 27th, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    Mike -

    Very interesting article. Thanks for offering it to us. It is hard for me to believe that your design did not satisfy the client.

    Any chance we could get you to share a screen shot of what your design looked like? That way we would know what a Web 2.0 site should not look like! :-)

  4. Lee responds:
    Posted: June 28th, 2006 at 7:28 am

    Wow, you guys are like, so web 1.0. Here’s the definitive guide to the web 2.0 style :


  5. Lee responds:
    Posted: June 28th, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Hi Mike,

    I was only kidding. ;)

    I totally agree with most of what you’re saying, and the site I pointed too was equally tongue-in-cheek. I have exactly the same kind of conversations with clients as you, so I understand your frustration!

  6. Webecho responds:
    Posted: June 29th, 2006 at 5:26 am

    Hi Mike
    I think it’s a great little article; I love hearing that other people get extremely ‘vague’ design briefs (more design thongs really!).

    Lee, maybe you’d better point out to the Web 2.0 style guy that he forgot to include rounded corners … LOL!

    Don’t worry Mike, I know you don’t like to disappoint your clients but I’m sure you remembered to have ‘Mind Reader’ removed from your business card before the re-print - didn’t you?.


  7. Anthony Brewitt responds:
    Posted: June 29th, 2006 at 7:10 am

    Hi Mike;

    I am very pleased you have given written this article, I agree with most points you have made. I will be pointing plenty of people to the article. Web 2.0 is a very sweeping statement and one that alot of clients use blindly. But from making alot of web 2.0 mockups at the moment the definition most clients give me is; large text, white space, curved corners and yer im afraid they like Arial! - probably the best known web 2.0 site is Digg.com and digg ticks all the above boxes and they have just unvailed they are 3.0, when a client asks you for 3.0 its time to worry!

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