The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 15, No. 3

The Demise of Web 2.0

David Strom

The term Web 2.0 has been around for about a decade [1], but we are finally seeing its disuse. No, the web itself is not going away, but the notion that an interactive layer of applications, protocols, programming languages, and tools has become subsumed into a new kind of web—one where everything is a service, mobile browsing is more important, and social networking has helped discover and promote new content. As a result, we do not really need the term anymore, because it is so much of what the web has become.

Think of this concept as going beyond the 2.0 label of the web: now we have a richer world of interactions that is just the beginning of how we use that tired old TCP port 80. All these developments mean that the readers of The Internet Protocol Journal are well poised to help others take advantage of this new complex web environment, because it has become the norm rather than some fancy address in the better part of town. Understanding its new structure and purpose is critical to building the next generation of websites and interactive applications.

Back in the early days of the web in the mid-1990s, it was largely static content that a browser would access from a web server. The notion of having dynamic pages that would automatically update from a database server was exciting and difficult to accomplish without a lot of programming help.

But then came Web 2.0, where the interactive web was born. We had blogging tools such as Google's Blogger and Automattic's Wordpress, and anyone could create a website that could be easily changed and instantly updated. Web and database servers became better connected, and new protocols were invented to better marry the two.

Everything as a Service

The past few years have seen the rise of Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, and even Platforms as a Service. [2] The coming of Cloud Computing has meant that just about anything can be virtualized and moved into a far-away data center, where it can be managed and replicated easily, obviating the need for any physical infrastructure in the traditional enterprise data center.

Why is this change relevant for the modern web era? Four reasons:

  • The web browser is still used as the main remote-access tool to configure and manage a wide variety of applications, network equipment, and servers, including all kinds of cloud-based infrastructures.
  • Most of these "as-a-service" entities still run over ports 80 and 443 and piggyback on top of web protocols, for better or worse. We have gotten used to having these ports carry all sorts of traffic that has nothing to do with ordinary web browsing, and we have to do a better job of sorting out the ways apps use the traditional web ports too.
  • We do not need to buy any software or install it on our own desktops; everything is available in the cloud at a moment's notice. What is more, we have gotten used to having the web as the go-to place to get new tools, software drivers, and programs. Software repositories such as GitHub and open source projects such as Apache have blossomed into places that corporate developers use daily for building their own apps. And why not? They have large support communities and hundreds of projects that are as well tended as something out of Oracle or Microsoft (and some would argue better, too).
  • The days of a simple web server serving up pages is ever more complex, with typical commercial websites having ad servers, built-in analytics to track page views and visitors, discussion forums to moderate comments, connections to share the post on Twitter and Facebook (more on these in a moment), and videos embedded in various ways. All of these websites require coordinated applications and add-ons to the basic web server that require various cloud services. For example, the sites that I run for ReadWriteWeb use Moveable Type for our content, Google Analytics, Disqus discussions, interactive polls from PollDaddy.com, and custom-built advertising servers, just to name a few of the numerous add-ons. The ever increasing numbers of add-ons means maintaining this system is not easy, and it requires a lot of detailed adjustments on a too-frequent basis.

The Rise of Mobile Browsers

According to the research firm NetApplications [3], the share of web browsing originating from mobile devices has more than doubled in the past year. Although desktops still account for more than 90 percent of the data accessed from browsers, mobile devices are consuming the web at an increasing rate.

Part of this trend is that we are using more devices and they have become more capable. Android-based phones constitute the largest market share, and they have the fastest-growing consumer mobile phone adoption rate. [4] Certainly, more and more of us are browsing more webpages from mobile devices these days.

Another part of the trend of increased roaming on mobile devices is that more people are creating and using more mobile apps, too. Hundreds of new mobile apps with a wide variety of content are created every day. Professors at major universities teach computer science students how to code mobile apps, and you can even take online courses on Java programming.

But mobile browsing poses a conundrum for web designers. One school of thought is to build custom tablet applications for your website, to show off the features of the tablet interface and to make it easier for tablet users to interact with your content. The U.K. Guardian, for example, is leading the way in this area. [5]

Another school of thought is to improve the mobile experience, by either building a separate site that is optimized for smaller screens and lower bandwidth connections or allowing the site to work automatically under the constraints of the mobile browser itself. [6]

One real challenge for the mobile web browsing experience is the role of Adobe Flash and the newest of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) standards, HTMLv5. Apple decided when it released its first iPads to not support Flash, and since then there has been additional effort and movement to migrate many Flash-based sites, such as YouTube.com, toward HTMLv5, which is supported by Apple's tablets and can be more efficient for lower-bandwidth connections. Although this topic could easily be the subject of an entire article for this journal, our point in mentioning it here is that displaying video and similar content is still a problem for the web, even today.

Our mobile traffic at ReadWriteWeb has increased tremendously in the past year, and I suspect our site is typical of other sites. But this increase in traffic presents challenges for content creators: is it better to sell ad units around the content, even ads that have sub-par browsing experiences on mobile devices? Or code up your own iPad app (or use Verve's tools [http://www.vervewireless.com/] or something equivalent)? Certainly the level of engagement with the custom mobile app is greater, but it amazes me that sites with just static pages still are not optimized for mobile browsers yet, with large image downloads or multiple included links, for example.

Let's consider the site Remodelista.com as a case study of how to properly optimize a site for mobile browsing. The owners have implemented tricks to adjust its layout for different screen sizes. As you make your browsing window smaller (or as you run it on a mobile device with a small screen), the integrity of the site content remains intact, meaning that font sizes change and ad blocks appear on wider, higher-resolution screens and disappear on smaller ones, but the overall content stream remains the same, no matter what device is used to view it. This consistency is achieved by adding a lot of special coding to the webpages, as the following snippet shows:

The Social Web Is Now Everywhere

It used to be the odd person in your professional circle who did not have or use an Internet e-mail account. Now the odd person is the one who does not have an account on Facebook or some other social networking site. What began in a Harvard dorm room in this decade has turned into a juggernaut of more than a billion users—and it is growing rapidly.

But the social web is more than a bunch of college kids swapping photos of their party pictures. A recent study from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth [7] shows that nearly 75 percent of the Inc. 500 (the fastest-growing 500 American private companies) are using Facebook or LinkedIn, a level that is about twice the percentage that are using corporate blogs. "Ninety percent of responding executives report that social media tools are important for brand awareness and company reputation. Eighty-eight percent see these tools as important for generating web traffic while 81% find them important for lead generation. Seventy-three percent say that social media tools are important for customer support programs." Clearly, these tools have become the accepted corporate intranet, the mainstream mechanism for communications among distributed work teams, and the way that many of us share events in our professional lives as well.

The social web means more than a "Like" button on a particular page of content; it is a way to curate and disseminate that content quickly and easily. It has replaced the Usenet news groups that many of us remember with a certain fondness for their arcane and complex structure. Or maybe that is just nostalgia talking.

In the presocial web past, even in the days when Web 2.0 was the rage, sharing and curation was not easy. If you wanted to share something you found online, more than likely you would e-mail your colleagues a URL. Now you can Tweet, post on Facebook and Google+, add an update to your LinkedIn account, put up a page on your corporate Yammer.com or tibbr.com server, or use one of dozens more services that will stream your likes and notable sites to the world at large. Or you likely have to do all of these tasks.

Back in the days of yore (say 2000), when I wrote a freelance article, it was sufficient to post a link to the story on my own personal website, in addition to perhaps sending an e-mail message or two to the people I thought might be interested in reading the content. Those days seem so quaint. Today, the process of writing the article is actually just the beginning, not the end. When the article appears online, a whole series of promotional activities must take place, including monitoring online discussions and adding my own comments, posting on the various social media sites, and re-Tweeting a link to my article several times over the next several days—all to ensure generation of lots of traffic.

There are even services such as Ping.fm and Graspr.com that can coordinate batch updates to numerous services, so that at the push of a button all of your social media will get your news at once. Or services such as Nimble.com that attempt to coordinate your entire social graph (as it is called) of friends and admirers so you can track what is going out across all your various networks.

Where We Go from Here

I have just tried to touch on a few topics to show that the days of the simple static web are "so over," as Generation Y says. Clearly, we have a long and rich future ahead of us for more interesting web applications.

References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0

[2] See "Alphabet Soup in the Cloud": http://www.readwriteweb.com/cloud/2011/10/alphabet-soup-in-the-cloud-und.php

[3] NetApplications research cited in this September 2011 article in Computerworld: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9219696/Apple_rules_phone_tablet_browsing_market

[4] Nielsen's statistics are typical: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/?p=29786

[5] See http://m.guardian.co.uk/, but you really need to view it on an iPad or other tablet device to understand what they are trying to do with their content. See also: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_guardian_ipad_edition_hits_ios_5_newsstands.php

[6] See Thomas Husson's May 2011 Forrester Research blog post here: http://blogs.forrester.com/thomas_husson/11-05-03-why_the_web_versus_application_debate_is_irrelevant

Also see my own January 2012 article in ReadWriteWeb here: http://www.readwriteweb.com/hack/2012/01/do-you-really-need-your-own-mo.php

[7] See their January 2012 study here: http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/studiesandresearch/2011inc500socialmediaupdate/

DAVID STROM has created dozens of editorial-rich websites for publications such as ReadWriteWeb, Tom'sHardware.com, eeTimes, and others, as well as written thousands of articles for numerous IT magazines. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine and author of two books on computer networking. He lives in St. Louis, Mo. and can be found at strominator.com, on Twitter @dstrom, and david@strom.com for those that still prefer e-mail.