What is Web 2.0?

In the build-up to next week’s Web 2.0 conference, technology observers are debating what web 2.0 is (I’m speaking at the conference on a couple of topics). I think the term web 2.0 has reached a tipping point in Silicon Valley in the last couple of months. People have been prognosticating a shift in the evolution of the web for a few years now. The shift is towards the web as a computing platform on which to build applications (and away from a publishing platform for web pages). This new computing platform will consist of open and easily accessible web services such as search results, news data feeds or people’s shared photos. Software developers will use these services as building blocks to rapidly create whatever new products they can think up. I think the tipping point for this idea was Housingmaps. Built by a single developer in his spare time over the course of a couple of months, it makes the concept immediately obvious to people. Take two web 2.0 building blocks, in this case an RSS feed for Craigslist real estate listings and a maps API from Google, mix them together and you get a cool new app. Now have a few hundred thousand web developers repeat this process and you get a explosion of new ideas and products.

Housingmaps was quickly noticed by bloggers and written up in the NYT. Since then, I hear web 2.0 everywhere. As is typical when Silicon Valley is in the grip of a new buzzword, lots of ideas and people are piling onto the bandwagon. All of a sudden, every company with a corporate blog and an RSS feed is “web 2.0”. Conferences and roundtables are popping up. VCs are working overtime trying to figure out where the money will be made. I guess this is all part of the process of vetting an idea and finding the core that will enable true long term value. In the end, I believe we’ll find that this is a real and important trend that will be driven by a handful of building block service providers such as Yahoo! and Google and thousands of software developers who will be building new products such as Housingmaps. Incidently, an important part of my job at Yahoo is to create the building blocks, so I’m obviously totally unbiased.

PS: If you couldn’t get tickets to Web 2.0, check out Web 1.0 to be held across the street!

Update: I like this web 2.0 definition by Tim O’Reilly: “Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.”

Yahoo Mail Beta

The former Oddpost team and many people on the Yahoo Mail team have been working overtime to launch the new Yahoo Mail to public beta users this week. It’s very exciting to see such a high quality product launch to one of the biggest audiences on the web. You can sign up to try it here (not sure how long it will take to get an invite). In the meantime, there are lots of good reviews popping up. One of my favorites so far is by Paul Kedrosky (who seems quite unimpeachable when it comes to product opinions – make sure you click through, he’s got one of the best review opening lines I’ve seen in a while).

Many Sidebars

So Google released Sidebar which is competitive with Konfabulator. What I find interesting about it is that they called it Sidebar. There is already a similar product called Desktop Sidebar. More importantly, Microsoft has been showing a similar feature as part of Vista, their next version of Windows, and they’ve been calling it Sidebar for ages as well. Obviously Google knows this. Are they using the same name as Microsoft to annoy them or is sidebar supposed to become a standard name for this kind of thing?

RocKstar

It’s been a while, and I’ve been waiting for something important to blog: Rockstar: INXS rules! Just kidding (though Jordis is going to win).

But seriously, I’ve been working on a very exciting project: Yahoo’s acquisition of Pixoria, the makers of the amazing Konfabulator software. As of today, Konfabulator is part of Yahoo and available for free (it previously cost $20 per user). If you haven’t already, you have to try it out. Konfabulator lets you run awesome, beautiful mini-applications called Widgets on your desktop.

There are widgets to display weather reports, stock portfolios, kitty cat clocks, anything you want them to be. Widgets are very easy to make using XML and javascript. There are over 1000 of them at www.widgetgallery.com. Konfabulator was built by three very talented guys, Arlo Rose, Perry Clarke and Ed Voas. They are the latest testament to how a small group of engineers and designers can have a huge impact in Silicon Valley. The three of them will join my Developer Network team at Yahoo where they will continue to push the envelope of their widget platform and help widget developers from around the world create and distribute amazing widgets.

Jeffrey points to some early press coverage.

New Yahoo Mail Coming

The fruits of Yahoo’s acquisition of Oddpost are starting to emerge into public view. Yesterday, we offered a few people a sneak peak of a new version of Yahoo Mail that’s based on Oddpost’s technology. There’s some discussion on it on the web. I particularly like Ross’s commentary.

Comparisons between the new Yahoo Mail and Gmail will be inevitable. However, I think it’s important to point out that the two products are aimed at somewhat different audiences. Yahoo Mail serves well over 100 million mainstream internet users. Gmail is aimed at early adopters (and as far as I know has a couple million users).

I’m a little biased, but I think this new version of Yahoo Mail will have a significant impact on people’s use of web mail. It will accelerate the move away from desktop mail by making web mail so fast and convenient that most users will never look back.

Decentralization Podcast

Just listened to a great podcast by Dave Winer. He talks about the internet’s great ability to decentralize markets (eBay for p2p commerce, Expedia for travel, etc) and how RSS, blogging and podcasting are decentralizing the publishing business by offering low cost publishing channels to anyone with a computer and allowing us to route around newspapers and radio stations, the previous gatekeepers of publishing channels.

What struck me most about this is the relationship between decentralization and increased information flow. Every time we decentralize something, we end up on the receiving end of a lot more information. For example, we can now book airline tickets without going through a travel agent, but we’re also faced with lots of travel information to sort through. Similarly with RSS and blogging, we can get news directly from ‘real people’, but we’re faced with thousands of blog posts everyday to scan. This could be a bad thing (information overload) or a good one (Dave stipulates that humans are actually quite well suited to this type of information processing). In either case, it seems like a great opportunity for software developers. People seem to have an insatiable appetite for an ever increasing amount of information which the internet is glad to supply, but the software tools to process and interact with that information are still in their infancy. For example, RSS readers are still in their first generation and barely able to let us effectively interact with blogging content and already the next waves of content – photos, tags, geolocation data, etc – are building.